Monday, October 31, 2011

È arrivato

You may recall that a week ago Friday - October 21 - Laurent dropped a small parcel in the mail destined for my friend Marco the Napoletano in Roma. I took a small - very small survey - and the general feeling was that it would take between 10 and 14 days to reach him. Myself, based on previous experience - hey 62 days isn't all that bad from Canada to Italy,  it took Phineas Fogg 80 days to go around the world - I guessed 20 or more but wouldn't you know it Post Canada and Poste Italiane proved me wrong.

I received an SMS from Marco to tell me that when he got home from a trip to Sicilia this afternoon (October 31) there it was waiting for him. Now this could mean that it reached him last Thursday or Friday or perhaps today. But wither it was 7, 8 or 11 days its still pretty bloody impressive.

Way to go Post Canada and Poste Italiane - now you've really built up my expectations.  Still not as good as the record 4 days with Vatican Post to Post Canada of a few years back but ....

31 ottobre/October - Santa Lucillia di Roma

Happy All Holy Ones Eve!

And by way of an All Holy Ones (All Hallows - Halloween) Eve posting I thought I'd share a photograph that my friend Larry posted today. He's a teacher - and a remarkable one - at the Ambrit International School in Roma.  Every year to celebrate Halloween - not a holiday greatly known in Italy - the school does the traditional "guising", trick or treating and pumpkin carving contest.  This year's winner though original may be taking the commercialization of the old holiday a bit far but you have to admit that its original.

This is the first year Laurent and I haven't carved our own pumpkins in a long time.  Back in the day we always got to work with special tools, stencils and sometimes just our imaginations and created, often as many as ten,  pumpkins.  All to guard the various places we lived in on the evening when "ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties, and things that go bump in the night" menaced our household.

And for many years we had the assistance of our own two "short-legged beasties" Bundnie and Reesie.  They were more than willing to lend if not a paw at least their own critique of the creations.  Here they are back in October of 1994 helping out in the backyard as the jack o'lanterns were being carved.

Ever the critic Reese turns up his nose at my hard work!

At least Bundnie shows some interest - probably because she thinks there may be food!
When your beautiful and blend in with the autumn colours you can afford
to be bored by it all!
And just as a reminder that the celebration of All Hallow's Eve is not only about children - as many of our friends  not always only for children I thought I'd include this wonderful painting by Daniel Maclise.  It captures a party that the Irish artist attended in  Blarney on October 31, 1832 where the traditional music, dances and games of the feast were played.

In the original exhibition catalogue the caption for the painting read:
There Peggy was dancing with Dan
While Maureen the lead was melting,
To prove how their fortunes ran
With the Cards could Nancy dealt in;
There was Kate, and her sweet-heart Will,
In nuts their true-love burning,
And poor Norah, though smiling still
She'd missed the snap-apple turning.

The reference to lead melting, cards and nuts (walnuts) are old ways of divination which probably date back to the pagan origins of the Feast.  And snap-apple is better known to us as bobbing for apples.

And just as I was finishing off this post I received an e-mail from a good friend who moved away from Ottawa a few years ago but always keeps me au courant with what the lads are sporting for trick and treating.  Now here are two super heroes if there ever were super heroes!

Trick or treat, everyone! 

31 ottobre/october - All Holy Ones Eve

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Mercoledi Musicale

Just to remind us what they were once capable of - before budgets were cut, when there were people with imagination in charge and the word "culture" was not treated as though it had four letters - the CBC has just released a 10 DVD set of their work with Glenn Gould.  Its a compilation of the concerts, documentaries, interviews and discussion which the famed - and eccentric - pianist filmed with the public broadcaster from 1954 until 1977.  Gould never enjoyed giving concerts - in one interview he maintains that he "detests audiences" and thinks "they are a force of evil". He preferred the solitude of the recording or television studio and he often stated that the future of music lay in recording.

Originally released in 1968 his recording of Mozart's Piano Sonata No 11 in A major has never been missing from the catalogues on vinyl or CD.  The third movement is a familiar one - Alla Turca: Allegretto or more commonly known as the Turkish March - but he gives it an unfamiliar reading.

It is a typical Gould performance - slightly off-beat with his sing-along just audible in the background. He almost plays it if though at a harpsichord and unlike many pianists doesn't race through it.  He reveals a delicacy in the music that I had never noticed before.  I really wasn't sure if I liked it but with repeated hearings it has grown to be one of my preferred versions.

And maybe if we ever get a TV I'll place an order with Santa for that CBC set.

26 ottobre/October - San Folco Scotti di Piacenza e Pavia
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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Postal Quiz

This time of year most government departments are involved in charity campaigns.  What was once a simple canvasing of colleagues for donations has given way to some very elaborate ways of raising money for various local and national charities.  I was working briefly at Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) the past few weeks and their bake sale included one of the most delicious Niagara Grape pies I've ever tasted.  And the bon-bon skewers that the Candy Ladies sold later in the week were a visual and taste delight.  

The good folk over at CIC International Region (the section Laurent is part of) came up with the idea of a cookbook with recipes contributed by Officers and their spouses who had served in Embassies around the world: Chefs without Borders/Chefs sans frontières.

You may recall that this past April I tried my hand at making Pasteria using my friend Marco's mother's recipe.  Marco had helped his mother make this Napoletane Easter dolce since he was a child so he gave me it to me not from a book but from memory.  Deciding exactly how much "a little but some is required" actually was became an adventure which I shared at that time - and thank god I did because Marco saw the photo of the ingredients and immediately sent me an SMS just before I added enough orange flower essence to make 20 pasterie!  Well after all he had said 3 bottles - he just didn't say what size!  Fortunately the end product met with everyone's - including Marco's - approval so I must have done something right.

So I decided it would be a great recipe - even in its slightly unscripted state - to submit from our household.   Once it was published I felt it was only right that Marco get a copy of the book that included a recipe that I'm sure will be followed this coming Easter in many Foreign Service quarters.

So last Friday - October 21st - Laurent put it in a large envelope and consigned it to the tender combined mercies of Canada Post and PosteItalia.  The big question was "how long would it take to get there?"  Well today marks the 5th day since it was stamped and sent on its way.  Marco has been forewarned and is on the lookout for it.  In the meantime I thought I'd take a little poll of my faithful reader.  How many days do you think will fly by before it reaches his doorstep?

How many days will it take for the cookbook to reach Marco?

We were asked to share any culinary secrets we had learned in our posting abroad and I shared the lessons I had learned during our four years in Italy:
Four years in Italy taught me that simple is better and fresh is best; and the eye, the nose, the finger and the mouth are the best tools any cook can have in the kitchen.

25 ottobre/October - Santi Crispino e Crispiniano

Monday, October 24, 2011

Lunedi Lunacy

Presented without comment except to say that the art of translation is one of small subtleties and refinement of language!

24 ottobre/October - Sant'Antoni Maria Claret i Clarà

A Thought

24 ottobre/October - San Luigi Guanella

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Boy's Crushed Spirit

Last evening Laurent and I had a reunion of sorts with old friends and colleagues from my Air Canada days. I wish I could say it was a joyous occasion but sadly we had come together to give our support to a friend and colleague and her family as they dealt with the loss of their young son. We were amongst a crowd of people who had come to the funeral parlor to express our sorrow at the suicide death of 15 year old Jamie Hubley.

I had trained Jamie's mother Wendy when she first came to Ottawa Airport and worked with her for many years after. I knew her husband Al and had met various members of her family over the years. Though not close - retirement and distance means you lose contacts with so many people - we were friends on Facebook and I was shocked when she posted a brief message there on Saturday. Further details became available as the weekend progressed and the tragic circumstances surrounding Jamie's death filled me with great sadness.  He had problems and struggled with depression but his family had made sure that he was being given help and when he came out they gave him all the support that a loving family could. Unfortunately that could not shield him from the bullying, name calling and harassment that he endured because he was a figure skater when he was younger or that was to be the result of his coming out at high school.

On his blog Jamie had recorded his anguish, frustration and perhaps most heart-breakingly his dreams.  And more recently he had spoken from that dark and lonely place that often leads to an act that cuts short a promising life and the heart out of a family.

Last evening as we sat waiting in the chapel to join the condolence line we watched a slideshow of a blond boy, more often than not smiling at the camera, in photos that captured those moments of any child's life - Christmas, vacation, covered with measles, receiving skating medals, in school plays -  growing up surrounded by family and friends.  That same family, all wearing rainbow ribbons, greet those friends and so many others, surrounded by mementos of Jamie's passions and accomplishments.  Though they were meant to celebrate his life they were also a reminder of much that has been lost with his death.

Ironically Jamie's funeral was held today - Spirit Day - a day set aside to show support for LGBT teenagers who have been the victims of bullying.  Yesterday to remind us of the day and its meaning my friend Cecilia wrote this "status" on Facebook:
No matter what your beliefs, look into your heart. Children should be Loved, not compelled to suicide, not bullied or murdered.  And not having an adult they can turn to gives these children no hope or guidance. If you can't find it in your heart to accept, can you at least not promote intolerance? I'm pretty sure from what I recall from my religious training in my early years that Jesus really wasn't so much into hate or violence.
Al, Wendy and the family have expressed the hope that talking about Jamie's death may do some good and make people aware of effects of teenage depression, bullying and homophobia .  "He had dreams and we want to help those dreams come true. So if by sharing our pain that'll happen, then it's good," Al said in an interview.  "Our boy won't be gone in vain."

20 ottobre/october - Spirit Day

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Friday, October 14, 2011

A Thought

I can add nothing .... except that this is true of so many people that I love and care for....

Many thanks to Stephen for passing this one.

14 ottobre/October - San Callisto - Papa

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Mercoledi Musicale

This morning as I waited in line for my - dear god help me - Starbuck's coffee (oh lord I can just see all my Italian friends rolling their eyes) I heard an old favourite playing in the background.  It still had the power to move me to a gentle melancholy as much today as it did when I first heard it back in 1963.

During my teen years, along with Gordon Lightfoot and Joni Mitchell,  Ian and Sylvia were singers who defined a distinctive type of Canadian music that mixed folk with country and urban overtones.   I grew up listening to, learning and loving the songs they composed - You Were On My Mind, Someday Soon et al - as well as their covers of Lightfoot, Dylan and others.  But I don't think there is a song to beat this one and there is good reason it was chosen as one of the greatest Canadian songs.  There have been all manner of covers but nobody sang it like Ian and Sylvia.  This version of Four Strong Winds was  recorded at a reunion concert on the CBC in 1986.  They are joined by Judy Collins, Emily Lou Harris, Lightfoot and Murray Maclaughlin.  Now there's a backup group if there ever was one!

I have to admit that hearing it today brought back memories and made me feel just a little big old.   I'm finding it hard to believe that it almost 50 years since I first heard them sing it.  And like all great songs it endures.

12 ottobre/October -  San Serafino da Montegranaro

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Memories of... Napoli

This posting was drafted after a trip to Napoli in February 2009.  It had started out as weekend jaunt to see Peter Grimes at San Carlo, my favourite opera house in Italy, and a planned excursion to Herculaneum.  But there was so much to do and see in Napoli itself that the entire weekend was spent exploring the city including a visit to the world famous Il Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli. My one regret is that I only got back to there once after that - and then only for an evening.  It is a city I longed to explore.

Sunday at the Colesseo

Roma - Tuesday, February 10th 2009

No I didn't go to the Colesseo in Roma again on Sunday, though I did go passed it several times in the last week but without going in. Now that I've been through it 8 times in the last 18 months I'm not sure I'll ever step foot in the place again. Famous last words! (Strangely I was to keep to those words and never did go into it again.)

However when we were at the Museo Archeologico in Napoli last weekend they had a special exhibition on Gladiators and the Colesseo in Pompeii.  Many of the items had survived the famous eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE and were in remarkable condition.  For me, at least, one of the most fascinating items amongst the swords, shields and general paraphernalia of the arena was this elaborately worked bronze helmet dating between 50 and 74 CE.

Found at the Quadriportico of the Theatres,  it is a stunning example of the artistry involved, and money invested, in garbing gladiators for battle. Unfortunately Christian mythology, Gibbon, Jean-Léon Gérôme and Hollywood has handed down this impression of the wholesale slaughter of the vanquished at the end of a contest. And though combatants did die, as I mentioned in my post on The Boxer, athletes and gladiators were highly skilled athletes who were too expensive an investment to allow for frivolous deaths. And many gladiators were prisoners of war but as many others were volunteers who had chosen fighting as their profession.  And even a gladiator who was past his prime could be valuable as a trainer for the young fighters entering the schools and arenas, as a bodyguard or even as a household slave.

Jean-Léon Gérôme's Pollice verso (1872) did much to influence 20th century ideas and ideal concerning Gladiators and the Roman Games.  The triumphant Murmillo stand over the defeated Thraex awaiting the pleasure of the crowd - who in this case seem to be calling for the blood of the vanquished.

The owner of the gladiator who wore this helmet must have spared no expense in outfitting his prize fighter.  The bronze helmet would have been worn by a "murmillo" as part of his equipment which would have included a broad sword, a loincloth, a belt, short greaves on his lower legs,  a linen arm protector, and the curved rectangular shield of a Roman legionnaire.  The murmillo derived his name from his helmet - vaguely fish shaped it appears to be a variant on the Greek word for a type of salt water fish.  Normally his opponent would have been a Thraex or Thracian - armed with a small round shield and a curved sword - or a Hopolomachus or Hoplite - using a spear, a sword and a small round shield in the Greek fashion.  The analogy was obvious to the crowd - the Roman legionnaire (murmillo) against a foreign enemy.  Perhaps it is more patriotic propaganda than actual records of combats but in early frescos, carvings and bas-reliefs the murmillo often appears triumphant!

This helmet is a large hemispheric dome with a grated visor and the broad brim surmounted by a crest which has holes on either side used to insert feathers and a horsehair plume to add further adornment to the elaborate relief work on the crown.  And no doubt it added a further fearsome aspect to the advancing combatant if not to his opponent then to the spectators.

The cap is decorated in relief with the personification of Roma Victorious, dressed as an Amazon, with her right leg slightly bent.  Fasces in her left hand - symbolizing power and jurisdiction - a sceptre in her left she stands in Imperial glory between two kneeling male figures.  Their tunics and trousers suggest they are barbarians who, having seen the error of their ways, offer tribute and homage to victorious Rome.

Two prisoners, their hands tied behind their backs, adorn the sides of the helmet.  A male on the right and a female on the left they are amongst the spoils of a battle won by the Empire.  Heaps of weapons form the traditional trophies of a triumph - armour, shields, spears, shin guard and banners.   Is it perhaps semi-biographical in nature - was the gladiator who wore this into the arena among the vanquished in a recent war?  Or was it just a reminder to the citizens of a fashionable resort town of Pompeii of the power and glory of their Empire?

It would be fascinating to know the story behind this amazing piece of metal work - the man who made it, the man (men?) who wore it.  How often had it been worn in triumph? Or in defeat?  Was the last gladiator to wear it one of the 16,000 who were buried in the lava flows and ash showers that reached temperatures of up to 700c.  Or as a valued piece of property had he been taken when his owner made his escape?  Or, in a more romantic vein, had he used the hysteria and confusion as thousands tried to leave the doomed city to make a bid for freedom and a return to his homeland?

The helmet reveals much about the rituals and craftsmanship of the time but reveals little of the people who made and used it leaving it up to our imagination to fill in the missing pieces.

A few other posts that actually made it up about that wonderful weekend in Napoli:

Of Cabbages and Kings

Sunday Stroll in Santa Chiara

Sharing - Napoletano Portals

11 ottobre/October - San Alessandro Sauli

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Monday, October 10, 2011

Lunedi Lunacy

Anyone who has lived in Italy can tell you that learning the body language is half the battle! It is one of the wonderful silly things about a country that it is easy to criticize but easier to love.

For my darling Walter, Robert, Dario, Larry, Vincenzo, Simonetta, Linda, Nazareno, Gail, Jolka, Micki, Marco, Diana and Cindi - I give thanks that I had four wonderful years with you and miss you with all my heart.

As Walter reminded me in an e-mail yesterday - Roma is Amor spelled backwards.

10 ottobre/October - San Daniele Comboni

Sunday, October 09, 2011

A Thought, a Prayer

As I mentioned in the previous post this weekend is Thanksgiving here in Canada; a time of joining with friends and family to give thanks for the many things that we have been graced with. And it is also a time to think of family and friends who are enduring difficulties and trials.

When I was living in Italy it was an easy thing to drop into a nearby church and light a candle as a way of remembering those I love and care about in their time of need.   It is not quite as easy now but that does not mean that I can't light a virtual candle and tonight as I give thanks for my blessings  remember in my thoughts and prayers my dear friend Elizabeth, her darling Kirk and the girls.  I am holding them close in my heart and my thoughts, I only wish there was more that I could do.

For those of you who pray I ask that your remember them in your prayers - or if you are not given to prayer then pause for a moment and as you give thanks for your many blessings think of them.

With Thanks

The idea that Thanksgiving is an American invention has always puzzled me. Perhaps as a holiday - i.e. a day away from work - it is very American but as an actual celebration it is as old as man's first harvest.  When I was growing up the holiday was more of a religious nature based on the observance as set out in the Book of Common Prayer.  Very English and being that our neighbourhood was semi-rural often of a communal nature.

Every culture has its rites, rituals and celebrations of the time of gathering and the First NationsI people in North America were no different with dances and feasts to celebrate the successful bounty of crops.  But Thanksgiving celebrations were not always about the harvest - often they honoured the end of a war, the return to health of an important worthy or the safe deliverance of a community from peril.  Indeed the first record of an non-aboriginal "thanksgiving" in Canada was a service of thanks given when Martin Frobisher reached Baffin Island in 1578.  It has been a bad crossing and one of his small fleet had been lost.

The French explorers and settlers often celebrated special days of feasting to celebrate their safe arrival in a new land, and of course nothing would do but that L'Ordre de Bon Temps be created to oversee the festivities and entertainments.  When France ceded the territory to Britain at the end of the Seven Year's War the nature of the irregular celebrations of Thanksgiving took on the less gourmand tone of the Church of England.  With the influx of United Empire Loyalists many customs and practices of the American Thanksgiving came into the feast day but celebrations were still of an ad hoc nature not an annual event.

With the celebration in 1879 it became a yearly holiday but in those days, like our American cousins, it was a Thursday in November.  And though the theme was often one of thanks for the harvest just as often it was to give thanks on the anniversary of a special event.  After the horror of World War One it was combined with Armistice Day as a day to be thankful for the sacrifices of those who died so that the bounty of the earth could be enjoyed.  In 1931 they became separate holidays - November 11 as Remembrance Day - and normally the second Monday in October as a day of Thanksgiving.  It was not until 1957 that the day was officially set. 

The Shakers have always fascinated me and though the foundation of their faith was Church of England they were a people much persecuted both in England and in their new home in the United States.  However their legacy has been far reaching in so many areas and their music was one of the many "gifts" that they gave the world.  The most famous of their many hymns is one of Thanksgiving - Simple Gifts celebrates exactly that the simple gifts for which we should all be thankful.

'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gain'd,

To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd,

To turn, turn will be our delight,

Till by turning, turning we come 'round right.
1848 - Alfred Community, Maine
As with most of us I often forget the many things and more especially the many people that I have reason to give thanks for at this time of my life.  So I will simply give thanks for being given my own "valley of love and delight."

09 ottobre/October - Giorno del Ringraziamento

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Friday, October 07, 2011

Momento Musicale

Max Bruch wrote what is perhaps the loveliest setting of the Kol Nidre (All Vows) for the eve of Yom Kippur.  This performance features an incredible group of musicians Jacqueline du Pré (cello),  Gerald Moore (piano),  Ray Jesson (organ), Osian Ellis (harp), and John Williams (guitar). The writings, visual arts, and photography in this video are the creations of Matthew Schwartz

I had not realized that the words are not in Hebrew but in Aramaic and that it is not actually a prayer but a declaration of an almost legal nature. 

The success of Kol Nidre led to the belief that Bruch was of Jewish ancestry and under the National Socialist Party his music ceased to be programmed because of the possibility of his being a Jew; as a result of this, his music was completely forgotten in German speaking countries. However there is no evidence for his being Jewish and Bruch himself was raised Catholic.

7 ottobre/October - Yom Yippur
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Monday, October 03, 2011

Lunedi Lunacy

My two favourite Scottish socks are visiting Venice; not sure why or to what end but there they are amongst the Gondolieri and wandering the campielli of one of my favourite cities in all of Italy.

03 ottobre/October - Santa Geraldina

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Memories of .... Ravenna - A Modern Mosaic

For a brief glorious time in its history Ravenna was successively the capital of the Western Roman Empire, the capital of the Kingdom of the Ostrogoths and the seat of government of Italian Byzantium.  It was during the reign of Theodoric the Great (489-526 CE) that it gained many of its famous churches, palaces, mausoleums and art treasures.  Pope Adrian I authorized three looting expeditions that allowed  Charlemagne to enrich his own capital of Aachen while stripping Ravenna of many of its glories; however enough remains to make it one of the most fascinating cities on the Adriatic.  Its glory days as a capital may be longed passed but its glorious past has left it with nine World Heritage Sites.   And the most glorious of its treasures are the many mosaics that adorn the walls, ceilings and floors of the churches and mausoleums that dot the city.

It is almost too easy to post photographs of the wonderful images in the Basilicas of San Vitale and Sant'Apollinare in Classe but as so often happens, as overwhelmed as I was by these fabled works I was also struck by a rather unusual mosaic by the Porta Ardiana.  One of the old city gates it was also known as Porta Giustiniana, after a Venetian mayor who ruled the city in the 500s when it was first built.  In its initial incarnation it stood guard at the edge of the Padenna River, its drawbridge at the ready to thwart pesky Vandals or unwanted strangers but  it was moved to its present position in 1585 by order of the Papal Legate Cardinal Ferrero.  Though I was unable to get photos of it at night - the best time to see it - there is a wonderful interactive view of it here looking into Centro.

An early photograph of Porta Adriana in Ravenna- named not after an Emperor or Pope but for a well connected Patrician family - the Adriani - in the region.  Much of the marble used on its reconstruction in 1585 had been stripped from the Porta Aurea which had been demolishedn 1582.
But, as I so often do, I digress.  As I strolled through the gate I noticed an intriguing tableau in the greenery surrounding one of the square towers that had been added in the 1700s.  A park bench!  Not unusual of itself but the fact that a coat and book had been left on it seemed a bit odd.

A closer look revealed - as it often did in Ravenna - the art and arteface behind the reality.  A beautifully conceived and crafted modern mosaic calling to mind not legions of angels and saints nor any heavenly vision but a few commonplace items left out in the open.

The mosaics from the earlier periods are filled with symbols and signs meant to convey the messages of religion to the faithful.  I'm wondering what message the artist was giving us with this piece.  Secular or sacred?  Had someone abandoned the book and coat in a moment of abstraction, had they been suddenly forced to flee the bench leaving possessions behind, had they been assumed into one of the heavenly clouds of an earlier mosaic  or perhaps had the owner simply wandered over to look in one of the store windows or have a quick espresso knowing that in a small town things could be left unguarded?  Unfortunately I was remiss in making note of the details of the work (title, the artist's name etc) that perhaps would have signalled the intent of the work.  For me, at least, mosaics seem to have an air of the mysterious about them so I guess this one is no different.

01 Ottobre/October - Santa Teresa di Lisieux
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