Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Mercoledi Musicale

While I moan and whine about the move I'm pleased - a bit sadistically I must admit - to see that I am not alone in my misery. Our friends Beata, Tom and the girls are trying to get settled back into Ottawa after a long time abroad; Martin, Robert and Rufus are dealing with the first steps in moving into their new house; and Elizabeth - well Elizabeth has a great deal going on with moving into a new house, moving family and it would appear, unlike me, acquiring more things.
A few - a very few - of the chatkas that have found their way to St Vincent de Paul or the consignment house.  If memory serves its the tail end of the lot.  Papier-mache pumpkin anyone?

While our Liz is collecting more "stuff" we're divesting ourselves of things - those banquet sized linen tables clothes and matching napkins (yes I know Cathy you didn't expect that many!!!!), silverware, decanters, the second set of pots and pans, the three extra dinner services, those framed posters from the 70s and chatkas - lord help us the chatkas.  How many sets of dachshund shaped knife rests does one household need???  Many things have gone to Saint Vincent de Paul and many others - including our Mexican bedroom set - have gone to an consignment house here in Ottawa that specializes in Estate Sales.

Which brings me to my musical selection for today (stolen without shame from Elizabeth): a little ditty by the wonderful Cheryl Wheeler who seems to love Estate Sales as much as Liz does.  Maybe I should get them both to come up and take a look  - though it isn't quite like "going through dead people's houses" they'd certainly see "all the things we've collected".  Maybe either one of them would be interested in a lovely set of dachshund knife rests?????

31 agosto/August - San Raimondo Nonnato

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Long Overdue HFH Videos

Its been a long while since the Hounds from Hell have made a video appearance here - not because they have not been the subject of cinematic projects on my part but because I've been lazy.  Well okay I do have an excuse I have been in moving mode for 11 weeks now and frankly its wearing me down.

I though I'd post  two little clips - one is BC - Before Canada and the other AI - After Italy.

The journey from there to here was a relatively good one - a little bit of excitement at Fumicino as Nicky tried to attack anyone that came near his cage - they weren't going to take him away from his homeland without a fight.  Nora was a little more placid but complained in her own inimitable way.  And for anyone who wasn't aware they flew in the cargo hold of the aircraft: a. - They are too big to fit under the seat and b. I don't believe in animals (or children) in the cabin of an aircraft.  And no we didn't give them any tranquilizers - 33 years experience in the airlines taught me the dangers of that, so we simply put a used bit of worn intimate apparel from each of us in each kennel.  That way there was a familiar smell.  Believe it or not it is the best way to calm an animal in that situation.

They were fine upon arrival and despite some whining made the car trip up to Ottawa with their Uncle Pervy without a problem.  Our dear Betty Jean - to whom be all honour and glory - took them in and they had a wonderful time at Summer Camp Culley.  Even Nicky's attempt to claim - in true canine fashion - her sofa as his own, or at least a lower corner of it,  didn't seem to phase her -she remained calm, cool and... well Betty Jean, then and through the whole 3 weeks she had them.

As for the new apartment - well much is still in boxes so free reign is not possible and the geography of their current area keeps changing as boxes are moved around, wine is stored and pictures hung.  But there is always the daily walks along the Canal - three a day, sometimes four - with new smells and squirrels!  Oh yes there are squirrels and as you may recall Nora's lineage is firmly in the hunting hound world - her mother is a champion boar hunter - so on the odd morning the neighbours have been treated to a full hunting hound howl.  And at 0630 it tends to echo very distinctly across the water.

The future holds some obedience lessons to see if we can get them both socialized a bit better with other dogs and maybe turn Nora's hunting frenzy to a more practical bent.   And then, of course, there will be their first walk in the snow to look forward to - now there's a thought to give me nightmares for a few weeks!

30 agosto/August - San Fiacre

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Mercoledi Musicale

When the great castrato Giovanni Carestinti first sang the role of Ruggerio in Alcina he was not pleased with the aria Handel had written for the Crusader hero in Act 2.  Charles Burney recorded the singer's displeasure and the composer's reaction:
Verdi prati, which was constantly encored during the whole run of Alcina, was, at first, sent back to Handel by Carestini, as unfit for him to sing; upon which he went, in a great rage, to his house, and in a way which few composers, except HANDEL, ever ventured to accost a first-singer, cries out: "You toc! don't I know better as your seluf, vaat is pest for you to sing? If you vill not sing all de song vaat I give you, I will not pay you ein stiver."
It is a deceptively simply aria, basic ABA, with very little opportunity for the florid ornamentation that Carestini was famous for.  But its very simplicity makes it a challenge for any singer.  I first heard it on a recording - I think possibly the first LP I ever owned - issued by London Records back in 1962.  Looking back now I realize it was a pioneering effort as very few of Handel's operas were consider saleable quantities at that time.  No doubt London recorded and released it at the insistence of Joan Sutherland who was one of their brightest stars in what was one of the starriest list of  operatic voices on the planet.  London was not stingy when it came to casting the other roles - Monica Sinclair, Graziella Scuitti, Luigi Alva, a very young Mirella Freni supported the slightly droopy - not many consonants in sight - Australian diva and as Ruggerio the incredible Spanish mezzo Teresa Berganza. I fell in love with Berganza from very first listening and my favourite track was "Verdi prati" - I'm sure I drove my mother up the wall playing it over and over again.

A rehearsal photo of Teresa Berganza as Ruggerio in the 1978 production of Alcina at the Aix-en-Provence Festival.  I found it while going through a box of old programmes that had been in storage.

Sutherland sang Alcina on stage in Venice, Dallas and London but to the best of my knowledge Berganza only appeared in it once - at the 1978 Aix-en-Provence Festival.  It was a banner year for Aix and I saw Janet Baker in Dido and Aeneas conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras; Don Pasquale with Gabriel Bacquier; and  Christane Eda-Pierre, Ann Murray, Valerie Masterson and my beloved Teresa in Alcina led by Raymond Leppard.  The weather that year was perfect, Aix was at its most festive, the food was incredible and the music...   as I said it was a banner year.  And if it had been sixteen years since Berganza recorded "Verdi prati" the passage of time had only enriched her performance.  Fortunately it was preserved on video for French Television and I am able to relive that magical experience.

Ruggerio, a crusader knight, has fallen under the spell of the enchantress Alcina, who turns former lovers into rocks, trees and wild beasts.  Brademante (Ann Murray in this clip), Ruggerio's beloved, has disguised herself as a knight to gain access to Alcina's magic island and attempts to save the knight.  He is given a magic ring which restores him to his senses and he sees the island as it really is—a desert, peopled with monsters. Appalled, he realizes he must leave,  and sings "Verdi prati" ("Green meadows") where he admits that even though he knows the island and Alcina are mere illusion, their beauty will haunt him for the rest of his life.

While going through a box of programmes in an effort to get rid of "stuff" I discovered the rehearsal shot of Berganza neatly tucked into the book from that year's Festival. It brought back memories of that summer and a magical evening of music under the stars in the courtyard of the Archbishop's Palace.  The programme and the photo went back into the box - how could I rid myself of anything that brings back such happy memories?

24 agosto/August - San Bartolomeo

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Its Only Words

A few months ago I discovered a weekly posting at The American Scholar by writer, journalist, editor, literary critic and, most importantly in my opinion, teacher William Zinsser.   Though to the best of my knowledge he has never addressed the subject of policies and procedures I was introduced to him during a Procedures Writing Course several years ago.  The professor insisted he was a "must read" for anyone planning to write "anything".   And what recommended him most was his insistence on the economy of language in writing.   It is rumoured that some teachers even tell their students to "Zinsser" their work (a newly coined verb meaning to take the clutter out of their essays).

Since then his On Writing Well has become one of those books that I return to almost yearly as a reminder that "writing improves in direct ratio to the number of things we can keep out of it.'" His Zinsser on Friday essays cover a broad range of subjects from baseball (one of his great loves) to jazz, from his WASPishness to his waspishness - and you'd be hard pressed to find an extraneous word - like extraneous - in any of them.

What brought Mr Zinsser to mind - and has me eager to unpack On Writing Well as soon as possible for another (much needed) read - was an e-mail from my friend Charlie highlighting some interesting facts about writing.
    Pythagoras' Theorem:  24 words
    Lord's Prayer (King James version):66 words
    Archimedes' Principle:67 words
    Ten Commandments (KJV):179 words
    Gettysburg Address:286 words
    American Declaration of Independence:1,300 words
    US Constitution including all 27 amendments:7,818 words
    EU Regulations on the sale of cabbage:26,911 words

Having just gone through the EU export procedures for "live" animals - heaven only knows what they would be for "dead" animals - I am going to write Mr Zinsser and suggest that a book on writing policies and procedures is long overdue. And I want the concession for sales in Brussels!

23 agosto/August -Santa Rosa di Lima

Monday, August 22, 2011


Today I had every intention of posting a Lunedi Lunacy however given the headline that greeted me this morning on the CBC I thought I'd let it wait for another day.

My father was an ardent supporter of the CCF party during its early days and until the day he died.  He did not see it morph into the NDP party which abandoned many of its socialist leanings to become a left-leaning Centralist party but I think he would have understood the change of times and ideas.  His admiration for J. S. WoodsworthTommy Douglas, Stanley Knowles and the early leaders and thinkers in the party was often expressed in our household.   And I know he would have considered that Jack Layton, who died today after a valiant struggle with prostate cancer, carried on that legacy of leadership and commitment to the good of his country that was the foundation stone of the party.

Jack Layton - 18 July 1950 - 22 August 2011
A man devoted to Canada and now at rest.
"My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we'll change the world."

 From his final letter to Canadians.

Though I abandoned my membership in the NDP as they became more and more centrist my personal admiration for Mr Layton was  profound.  In a day and age when I have become cynical about almost every politician, regardless of party or platform,  he was the one man I felt was honest and true to his principles.  He was the one politician that I believe thought of the good of my country first.  It is a tragedy that he was not able to fulfill his role as leader of the Official Opposition as I truly believe he would have defended the many things my father and his generation fought to bring into being in this country.

With the rest of my fellow Canadians I say goodbye to him and thank him for a life of service and commitment - we have not seen his kind often in the past few years nor, sadly I fear, will we again.

22 agosto/ August - Maria Regina

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Lost ... and Found - #1

The never ending, it would seem, story of the unpacking continues and though there may be some light at the end of the tunnel there isn't much in the spare room which still contains 52 boxes of CDs, books and sundries.  I am assuming that things such as the cable for the printer is in one of them but until I can get the bookcases in place I can't even start to take exactoknife to tape.

Happily so far there has been very little damage in the shipment from Italy - only two broken bowls in an old dinner set - and the wine arrived intact!  Would that the same could be said for things that were in long term storage - there is rather large dent in the upholstery of an armchair and the satin-finished Watered Maple dining table top has a few more abrasions, scratches and nicks than when it left the house in Aylmer.  But one of the fears of any unpacking job - no matter the provenience of the packing - is that you may inadvertently leave something in the reams of packing paper and have it whisked off to the mangler at the warehouse.  I was sure just such a fate had befallen two of my favourite little creatures.

Two hummingbirds - carved in BC cedar by Haida artist Dorothy August - said to bring joy and healing.
 Back in 2002-3 I was working in Vancouver and that allowed me to spend some time with my friends Dan and Cameron.  In those days they were renovating a house in town but have since moved to a wonderful waterfront home on Galiano Island in the Gulf - some people have all the luck.  One rainy Saturday (hey its Vancouver okay???) we headed up to Horseshoe Bay and after a healthy vegetarian, organic lunch (hey its Vancouver okay????) we wandered into The Spirit Gallery to look at the Haida art and crafts.  I fell in love with two tiny hummingbirds (7cm x 10cm - 3" x 4") carved in BC cedar by Dorothy August.  Said to bring joy and healing to a home, they have always found a place on a wall in ours since then. 

In Rome they graced the wall of the hallway leading down to the bedrooms.  I had opened a box and everything from that hallway was there - two small drawings from San Miguel de Allende,  a decorative hanging from Sappa,  a searing political cartoon from Poland and an 18th century hand coloured print of Warsaw.  And only after the box had been collapsed and paper disposed off did I realize that of hummingbirds had I none. 

I looked through the discarded paper in nearby boxes  - in effect unwrapping everything again - but no luck!  There were 12 other boxes filled with wrapping paper but I just didn't have the time or strength to go through them all.   Several people - Cathy, Mark and Laurent - assured me that I would find them, that they had just been put in another box.  That the packers had perhaps overlooked them and then at the last minute put them where space allowed.  I wasn't buying that story - everything else from the hallway was in the one box so they must have been.  They were small and very light weight so I had missed them in the unpacking.  I reconciled myself to the fact that my two little hummingbirds had been lost.

Well I guess you should always listen to your friends.   A few days later as I was unpacking a box from the dining room (?) there they were.  Not to be too poetic or sentimental - my two tiny birds hadn't flown away at all - they were just waiting to be found, unwrapped and to be given a place in our new home.

I'm not sure when Haida artist Dorothy August carved these two - 12/8 is written on the back in pencil which could be December 8 or August 12 but no year is indicated.  She's originally from Port Alberni on Vancouver Island and her Haida heritage is Nuu-chah-nulth from the Ahusaht First Nation.  According to the brief biographical note I received from The Spirit Gallery as well as cedar carvings she is know for her intricate bead-work and the Cowichan sweaters she knits. 

The hummingbird has no prominence in the older iconography or legends of the Haida but has made more of an appearance in recent years.  Within the constantly evolving mythology of the West Coast its character has developed into a speedy messenger of joy, love and healing.  If it appears at a time of great sorrow, wings beating rapidly as it hovers in mid-air, spiritual healing is said to quickly follow.

I know their appearance amongst all that bloody wrapping paper gave me a sense of joy - and relief.  They are now hovering on the hallway wall in our - and their - new home.

17 agosto/august - Sant' Elia di Enna
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Monday, August 15, 2011

Lunedi Lunacy

I may have mentioned that when I switched to an iPhone back in Roman times the young man at the Vodaphone store shook his head sadly and commiserated with me over the fact that I would have to deal with Rogers Communications when I got back to Canada. I had heard so many bad things about their service that when I was setting up my systems here - home phone, internet, mobiles etc - I automatically went with Bell Canada. I've been a Bell customer off and on for over 40 years with never a problem so why should it be any different now! Right? Wrong!

I won't go into all the nonsense that has been involved in setting up fairly simple things such as voice mail and an added listing in the directory. But I've wasted upwards of six hours, left three voice mails and spoken to seven people to get it straightened out.  As I came off the line from conversation number 4 I was reminded of a comedy classic by Mike Nichols and Elaine May. Coming out of the Second City tradition of  intelligent observations on the vagaries and absurdities of daily life they were frequent guests on the old - and much lamented - Jack Parr show.   Notice no vulgarity, no swearing - just witty jabs at those little annoyances that plague our existence.

Today Bell Canada has no faux-sympathetic Miss Jones working for them; her kindly Ma Bell tones have been replaced by the faux-enthusiastic, peppy and preppy voice of go-getters like young Kent - am I being curmudgeonly in assuming he was 15 years old? - solving problems for poor, frustrated fools like me.  I'm not sure which is more annoying?

*Everyone in a Nichols and May sketch seems to live on Huguenot Walloon Drive. It cracks me - and usually the audience - up every time Mike Nichols says it.  It is just one of those silly sounding combinations that hits the funny bone.  But a bit of research revealed that a group of Huguenots from the Walloons first settled in New Netherlands (New York State) in 1624 and that the stamps issued in 1924 to commemorate the 300th anniversary of their landing are considered collectors items by stamp enthusiasts. I wonder if Nichols knew that or it was just a name that he pulled out of a hat?  

15 agosto/August 15 - Assunzione di Maria
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Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Return of the Prodigal

Okay perhaps I'm being a bit overly dramatic - and I'm just trying to imagine your surprise at that! - I really haven't been away all that long neither have I been leading a wild and dissolute existence in a big city. Nor have I been squandering my patrimony on wine, loose men or gambling - that was squandered long ago. What I have been doing is trying, along with Laurent, to shoe horn a three bedroom house and all the "stuff" from Roma into a two bedroom apartment. That and deal with the complex bureaucracy that is Service Ontario, Bell Canada and Canada Customs.  Laurent has spoken of the adventures of bring our car - bought in Ontario - back to Ontario as well as a few other sordid details of a move that neither one of us wanted to make but are trying hard to make the best of and not resent.

Gustave Doré - The Prodigal Son Returns
(and no that isn't Nicky and Nora
running to greet him!)
Though when I look at it I imagine I have been gone from home longer than the Prodigal - its been four years since I set foot this side of the pond.   However unlike the young wastrel when I got back there was no sobbing father, no fatted calf, no grand feast and no envious brother to complain about the festivities surrounding my return.  Frankly I think I had something better - friends and family to welcome me back and help soften the impact of a hard landing.

Our darling Blake - Uncle Pervy to the HFH - made two trips to Dorval to pick up, first, the HFH and myself and then, 10 days later, Laurent and has provided chauffeur service on several occasions.  Rick and John provided me with luxury accommodation and good food for well beyond the three days that is the acceptable olfactory period for guests and fish.  Our Cathy ran a willing, efficient, clean and reasonable - you can't get more reasonable than free - taxi service and took me out for drink when I needed it most.  Ron and Gord provided food, fun, great company  and a momentary return, figuratively, to Italy - welcome respite from all those boxes.  Jeff, George and Alan  knew that a day at the cottage would soothe the frazzled nerves.  Peter and Joe  ditto - though they got to go back home to Rome (I'll deal with them later).  All our other family and friends who sent love, kisses and good wishes have helped make the landing softer and for that we are grateful.

Return of the Prodigal Son - An etching dated to 1963 only one of many works by Rembrandt Van Rijn depicting the parable.  He was to return to the subject several times in oils.

And then there is Betty Jean - summer camp  counselor extraordinaire for the HFH.  She boarded our two little hellions for much longer than was intended with the grace that is her trademark.  Even the fact that Nicky felt it behooved him to mark his territory on her couch the minute he arrived didn't seem to phase her.  She took the deadly duo for long walks - or rather Nora dragged her on long walks from the sounds of it - which they now seem to expect.  There will never be any way we can adequately repay her for her time and care - though I have suggested Laurent could go over and shovel her snow after those overnight blizzards that are the norm in Ottawa winters.  She however feels that her own room in that Villa she firmly believes we should buy in Tuscany would be an adequate thank you.  Well we all can dream - her and us!

A favourite of Renaissance artists, the story was recorded in 1530 by Bernardino Licinio who placed the scene firmly in the Lombardy of his time.  No doubt it was meant as a warning to the scions of wealthy families who had been led astray.
I've also been prodigal in my updates here - the last being almost three weeks ago. And though there will not be great rejoicing and killing of baby bovines I think its time I got back to posting - if only on an irregular basis until things are settled. Life may not be as exciting in Ottawa as it was in Roma but there is till enough that I feel I can share - half-finished postings, memories of things and places in Italy, the HFH, musical videos and the odd laugh. And to be honest I miss the challenge of writing. So for better or for worse the prodigal has returned.
13 agosto - San Ponziano
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