Monday, December 31, 2012

Lunedi Lunacy

For Josee, Lara, Jesicca, Jennifer, Sonia, Michelle, Monique and all the other good ladies Who enrich my life ....

31 December - 1857: Queen Victoria chooses Ottawa, then a small logging town, as the capital of Canada.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Sunday Christ

As my friends Irini and Fotis mulled over whither Fotis really needed a Darth Vader helmet or a feather boa (sensible boy he bought neither) I wandered out of the Hollywood Costume Exhibition Shop at the Victoria and Albert into a small gallery next door. Though it is located a good deal away from the splendid Medieval Galleries it houses a few lovely pieces of religious art of mixed origins from the period. As often happens I focused in on one lovely piece of the carver's art.

This time the medium wasn't wood but alabaster and as is often the case with works of the period, this figure is dated circa 1500, the artist who created it is unknown. And until I saw this piece I must admit that the subject was unknown to me: The Sunday Christ.  The card in the case explained that this was a unique work probably from Southern England or Wales and was meant not as a devotional object but as an admonition to those who wounded Christ by working on the Sabbath.

Normally the figure of the Sunday Christ appears in paintings and frescoes, often larger than life, and seems to have been particular to southern England, Cornwall, Wales, and the Alpine regions of France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Slovenia and northern Italy.   Frequently situated at the entrance to a church the painting or fresco portrayed "The Man of Sorrows" acquainted not with grief but with the grievous wounds caused by the tools of workmen who had chosen not to "to abstain from those works and affairs which hinder the worship to be rendered to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s day, or the suitable relaxation of mind and body."  In more than one representation the blood from the wounds have a particularly gory aspect which causes me to wonder why it didn't become the subject for more Southern artists who seem to revel in suffering with a capital "S".   It was hoped that in regarding the Sunday Christ (with or without the gore) the pious could find assurance that they were not amongst those re-crucifying Christ and the repentant would see what their act of impiety had led to.  I'm not sure what effect it would have on those who continued to work as they wouldn't have darkened the door step of the church to view the suffering their sinful behavoir had wrought.

Many of the tools that are inflicting wounds on The Sunday Christ are agrarian in nature - suggesting that this figure was carved as a warning to farm labourers in the surrounding district.  Which church it was created for is unknown as are the details of how it found its way to Portugal before being acquired by the V and A. 

There is a theory that in the wake of the Black Death the Holy days of obligation had increased to a point where if craftsmen, labourers and farmhands had abstained from work on all of the required days that nothing would have been done.  In many cases work was necessary, if crops were to be planted or brought in, buildings to be constructed or water to be drawn that work continue despite it being the Sabbath.  It was very much a case of "damned if you do, damned (or starved) if you don't". 

It is highly unusual for The Sunday Christ to be worked in stone or wood and this little figure is the only known representation in this form in England. The figure was probably stored in a shuttered tabernacle close to the door of the church and may even have been carried in processions on one of the many Feast Days or Days of Obligation.  Perhaps it was when viewed in those processions that the shame of working and inflicting new wounds on their Lord overcame those labouring and they threw down their tools and did their duty.

Thought I have been a trifle tongue in cheek about the purpose of this little figurine I can recall the time was here in Canada when Sunday was indeed a welcome day of rest.  And it was very much the same in our area of Roma and many places in Germany and Austria that we visited.  Sunday was a day to go to church, if you were so inclined, visit the family, stroll through the park or go to lunch with friends.  All of which fit perfectly in to the canonical command "to abstain from those works and affairs which hinder the worship to be rendered to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s day, or the suitable relaxation of mind and body." and none of which would have contributed to the suffering of this little Christ figure.

30 December - 1919: Lincoln's Inn in London, England, UK admits its first female bar student.
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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Memories - Dylan Thomas

One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.

With that glorious run-on sentence Dylan Thomas begins his reminiscences of A Child's Christmas in Wales - his rich memory book of childhood Christmases mangled and magnified through the lens of passing time.   The language  sings on the page without a musical stave in sight.  And if it sings in your mind as you read it, it sings even more on the recording Thomas made in 1952 for the newly created Caedmon Records.  Thomas has been contracted by Barbara Holdridge and Marianne Mantall-Roney to record several of his poems but Thomas also wanted to read a story and suggested that a piece he had sold to Harper's Bazaar Magazine in 1950 would be a good one.  Apparently he showed up for the recording - possibly drunk according to Mantall-Roney - without a copy of the text.  A frantic scramble produced a copy of the magazine and the text of  'A Child's Memories of a Christmas in Wales'.  It was the first of the many spoken-word recordings that this company was to produce and though its initial release met with only modest success it is still in the catalogues today.

As the Aunties have their tea (and perhaps some parsnip wine) young Dylan manfully tests his skills as
a "little engineer" in Fritz Eichenberg's woodblock for the 1959 reissue of A Child's Christmas in Wales.
The story was first published in book form in 1954, two years after Thomas's death, and has since been republished in several editions.  Many of them feature illustrations by well known graphic artists including the 1959 edition with woodcuts by Fritz Eichenberg.  Many Christmas's ago Laurent gave me a lovely little miniature facsimile printing of that edition and each Yuletide it take pride of place on our tree.  Thomas's memories are set amongst our own mementos  of Christmases in Ottawa, Montreal, New York, Cairo, Mexico City, Warsaw, Chicago, Hong Kong, Beijing and Rome. Christmases that much like those of Thomas's childhood have become mangled and magnified by the lens of passing time.
" ...when out of a snow-clogged side lane would come a boy the spit of myself, with a pink-tipped cigarette
and the violet past of a black eye and cocky as a bullfinch, leering all to himself." For some reason
I always thought the young narrator was seeing his own reflection in a shop window
- obviously Eichenberg, and perhaps Thomas, saw it differently.

If nothing quite matches the magic of Thomas reading his own words  a lovely version was filmed for TV with Denholm Elliot in 1987 comes very close.  Though adapted and expanded it remains faithful to the loving nostalgia of the original, never ignoring the humour that Thomas also saw in those memories.  And it includes a lovely performance by Elliot as the grandfather recounting the stories of the time when it snowed for six days and six nights when he was twelve.  Or was it for twelve days and twelve nights when he was six?

Both Grandfather and Thomas wish for snow for Christmas;
the one to recapture the memories the other to created them.

I've always wondered that it hasn't become a Christmas classic amongst all the annual drivel that shows up but it seemed to have disappeared.  However I found it available on DVD last year and immediately ordered it.  Watching it is now a Christmas tradition in our household along with listening to the original recording.  

Here is Thomas in the last passage of that reading made more than 60 years ago that still touches to the heart of the Season.

And then I went to bed. Looking through my bedroom window, out into the moonlight and the unending smoke-colored snow, I could see the lights in the windows of all the other houses on our hill and hear the music rising from them up the long, steady falling night. I turned the gas down, I got into bed. I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept.

25 December - 800: Coronation of Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor, in Rome.
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Christmas 2012

For Unto Us A Child Is Born

Merry Christmas    Joyeux Noël    Buon Natale

December 25 - 1066: William the Conqueror is crowned king of England, at Westminster Abbey, London.
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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Comfort Ye My People

Like many I grew up with The Messiah as a Christmas tradition - either in its full version as broadcast each year on CBC from Massey Hall with the TSO under Sir Ernest MacMillan or snippets at our local church if the choir master was particularly adventuresome.   Both Handel and Charles Jennens would be puzzled by our tradition of their oratorio being presented in concert halls, town halls, school auditoria and churches at Yuletide.  It was premiered at Eastertide in Dublin in April 1742 and Jennens' text is an extended reflection on Christ as the Messiah; only Part I addresses the Prophetic Coming and Nativity, Part II and II portraits the Passion, Resurrection, Accession, Last Judgment and Final Victory of Christ the Messiah.

For Jennen's it was not a Christmas message but a Christian one (howbeit skewered to his particular beliefs) that he was delivering.  And though at various times his libretto has been denigrated as a mere cobbling together of text from the King James Bible and the Book of Common Prayer it is now recognized as what Watkins Shaw describes as "a meditation of our Lord as Messiah in Christian thought and belief".  And despite his dislike for Jennens as a person, Shaw conceded that the finished text "amounts to little short of a work of genius".  And that literary genius was wedded perfectly to Handel's musical genius.

This copyist's manuscript from 1743 repeats a text error
from the original in the bass aria The Trumpet Shall Sound.
It reads "And the Death shall be raised..." of course it shoud
read "And the dead shall be raise...
Though Jennen's text has been little changed, if at all, over the years the same cannot be said for the musical settings around it.  Shortly after its premiere Handel himself was busy at work adapting the work to the changing vocal and instrumental forces at his disposal.  And he was to make further changes, additions and deletions until the last performances he attended eight days before his death in April of 1759.  After his death other hands began to "adapt" and even "improve" upon Handel's work - on the Continent Hiller in Berlin expanded the orchestration, and in 1789 Mozart in Vienna re-orchestrated the oratorio to bring it more in line with modern tastes.  Larger forces came into play both in Europe and North American but nowhere more than in the United Kingdom.  Larger and larger choruses and orchestras were employed until in 1857 at the Chrystal Palace a chorus of 2,000 sang their Hallelujahs with the backing of an orchestra 500 players strong.  This tradition of the "grand" Messiah was carried on - though with fewer numbers - by British conductors well into the later part of the 20th century.  Certainly the versions I first heard where with full 19th century symphony orchestra and a larger chorus backing singers such as Lois Marshall, Maureen Forrester and Jon Vickers.  The performances that conductors like Sir Ernest MacMillan, Sir Malcom Sargent and Sir Thomas Beecham led were full blown affairs with nary a whiff of "period practice" about them.  By the last quarter of the 20th century tastes had changed and Bernard Shaw's desire to hear a performance in a small venue "with chorus of twenty capable artists" was being fulfilled and more and more presentations reflected the desire for "historically informed performances".  It has now come to the point that no one would dare go for the Beecham style.
The Messiah during the Great Handel Festival of 1857 at the Crystal Palace in London
- a chorus of 2,000 and 500 musicians made sure that the Hallelujahs were well and truly heard.

 Though I have several versions of The Messiah - including Der Messias, the Mozart arrangement in German and several period instrument performances - for some reason every year I go back to my old Sir Thomas Beecham recording on RCA Victor.  It uses the very "unauthentic" and apparently contested arrangement Sir Eugene Goossens made for Beecham in 1959 for performances at the Lucerne Festival.  It is grand perhaps even grandiose, the forces are large - Beecham's Royal Philharmonic and the Huddersfield Choral Society at full throttle.  The four soloists come no where near giving us "authentic performances" - a phrase which always brings to mind Anna Russell's comment: "terribly pure if a trifle bloodless".  There is nothing period or bloodless about the young Jon Vickers and I dare anyone not to be thrilled when his voice cries out in the wilderness. 

In a letter in May of 1959 Beecham admonished Goossens: "You will not forget, I am sure, that Hallelujah must lead off with the most glorious and crashing noise, everybody going all out - hell for leather!"  Fulfilling Sir Thomas's wish Goossens uses cymbals to start of the thing with a big bang.  When challenged about his arrangement by Records and Recordings in 1960 Sir Eugene turned the question around.  "And why not?" he asked the interviewer: "Aren't we exhorted in the Bible to 'praise the Lord with the sound of cymbals'?"  And praise the Lord Sir Thomas and his forces certainly do.  It may lack a certain subtlety but its is joyous and guaranteed to bring an audience to its feet hoary old tradition or not.

Now this is not The Messiah as I always want to hear it - at some point this week the Gabrielli Consort CD will go on the player or the Charles Mackerras Mozart will be clicked on iTunes. The wonder is that Jennen's and Handel's glorious work can take all those interpretations and still move us to tears, joy and contemplation.

23 December - 1823: A Visit from St. Nicholas, also known as The Night Before Christmas, is published anonymously.
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Saturday, December 22, 2012

Pussy Cat, Pussy Cat Where Have You Been?

Well actually I've been to London if not to visit the Queen then to do quite a lot of things in four short days.
This delightful lithograph in the lobby of the National Theatre proves that
many cats can indeed look at a Queen!  Sadly I didn't make a note of the artist's
name or the title and the National website gives no clues.

I first visited London when I was 19 in 1969. Up until then the farthest I had been away from home was New York one Christmas with my mother (when we had the embarrassing scene with the unsuccessful attempted to "poison" me with "uncooked" hamburger at Schrafft's Restaurant) and Nassau with my friend Eugene (who saved me from drowning two hours after we arrived and has suffered with a bad back ever after). You would think that those two episodes alone might have killed any urge I had to travel but no, that May I set off on the first of many voyages to London; and I was to cross the Atlantic once again three months later en route to Austria.  In those heady years of high salaries, working for the airlines and living at home if I had been eligible for air points (if such a thing had existed) I would have had enough to do around the world within a year or two. The trips were frequent and mainly to Europe and many of the trips meant time spent in London - sometimes only for a day or two.

The reason for that first trip was opera - The Glyndebourne Festival and the Royal Opera at Covent Garden. Then there was the theatre - Love for Love with Geraldine McEwan at the National Theatre (still housed in the Old Vic back then), Sarah Miles and Eileen Atikens in Vivat Vivat Regina and a trip down to Chichester to see the incomparable Alistair Sim and a very young Patricia Routledge in Pinero's The Magistrate

Well 43 years later I arrived at Heathrow a week ago Thursday past for a few days and the principal motivation once again was opera - plus ca change!!

The Royal Opera House was staging a rare revival of Meyerbeer's Robert la diable  - the last time the infamous ghostly ballet of debauched nuns danced on that stage was 1890.   And in one of those strange little quirks of serendipity the National Theatre (in their South Bank home) was presenting The Magistrate with John Lithgow as the beset-upon Mr Posket.  Did I mention "plus ca change"????
Not only the shops in Mayfair were dressed up for the season;
though this little girl was not at all impressed with the Candy Cane.

And if there's a Candy Cane man, you just know there had to be
a Candy Kiss on roller skates nearby - after all it is London.

I really meant to go and check that the crows were still at the Tower after
encountering this rather exotic outfit at the M and S check-out. However the Russian gentleman
with the fat wallet with her seemed rather pleased with his lady so....  chaqu'un as they say.

There were, of course, quite a few added attractions - my dear Fotis was coming in from Athens for the opera and we had seats together (quite by accident) in the front row of the amphitheatre; Chantal, a colleague from Rome was on temporary duty at the High Commission and I had an invitation to stay with her and a night out at the National; and David and the Diplomate had issued an invitation to Sunday lunch.  It was going to be a full four days.

Although the landscapes don't quite marry up it is possible that the artist intended the portraits of Ashraf 'Ali Khan and his mistress Muttubby to be a facing each other in a book. Dip Chad is one of the few artists of the period of whom much is known and his style is distinctive for its experimentation and subtle use of colour.  For some reason the portrait of Muttubby reminded me of Magritte - funny the associations our minds make.
From the catalogue for MUGHAL INDIA, British Library

But of course being London there were all the serendipitous events that pop-up in what is still after all these visits one of the most exciting cities on the surface of this ever shrinking globe.  At 1430 on Thursday afternoon Fotis phoned to say that he had an extra ticket for the (sold-out) Hollywood Costume exhibition at the V and A and to get my lily-white over there by 1530 if I wanted to see it.  And see it I did - and met his friend Irini Kyriakidou who, as well as being a very beautiful and talented soprano in her own right, just happens to be married to Bryan Hymel who was singing the eponymous Robert.  Which then led to an opportunity to go backstage after the performance followed by a late night dinner in Covent Garden with Irini, Bryan, Fotis and their friend Sascha.  An e-mail exchange with David about Sunday's lunch led to an unplanned trip to the British Library to see a splendid exhibition of books and illustrations from the Moghul Period in India.  And Sunday lunch as well as bringing the delights of a perfectly cooked joint of lamb placed me in the company of David, Diplomate and Edward, a fascinating gentleman with an equally fascinating history.

And my faithful travelling companion Sidd accompanied me to Pink to look at shirts but frankly was more interested in getting his photo taken with Santa.  I mean where else but London would you find a Pink Santa?

Some how I managed to squeeze a trip to Seldfridge's and a quick pop by Fortnum and Mason to see their very disappointing windows this year - no moving figures and more advertisement than anything - with a stop behind them at Pink on Jermyn Street.  To make up for the disappointment of not spending £175.00 on that great shirt I headed back to the V and A again.  A walk-around their remarkable Medieval Galleries, a look-in at the Raphael's and a saunter through the English Renaissance displays was almost as good as retail therapy.

You could almost miss this beautiful little 13th century ivory fragment from Northern England in the midst of all the glories of the Medieval galleries at the V and A.  Carved from a walrus tusk it depicts Joseph of Aramathea supporting the body of Christ as it is removed from the cross.  Strange how a small piece of ivory can be turned into something so moving.

A full but strangely not exhausting few days that proved that even after the many visits I am very much not "tired of life".

"Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford."
— Samuel Johnson to Boswell,
September 20, 1777.

22 December -1890: Cornwallis Valley Railway begins operation between Kentville and Kingsport, Nova Scotia.

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Monday, December 10, 2012

Lunedi Lunacy

Well I may as well stop trying to fight it and give in - Christmas is only a few weeks away and the decorations are up in most places.  The carols are piping over the sound systems in stores, malls, train stations and I would gather airports.   I understand that the Christmas "specials" are appearing on television (I keep thinking that we really should get one but then I think, why bother?).  The endless annual repeats of Rudolf, Charlie Brown's Christmas, The Grinch and Frosty the Snowman are once again thrilling young and old.  Bing is singing about all our Christmases being white,  miracles are happening on 34th Street, wonderful lives are being revealed to despairing bankers and babes are getting lost in Toyland.

 So I thought I'd start the season, for me at least, with one of my favourite Christmas "specials" back from the days when a "special" really was "special".  The guest stars are fabulous if in some cases faded,  the bonhomie is as fake as the snow and the host is as venal in his search for gifts as we all really would like to be.

Here's the opening number from PeeWee's Playhouse Christmas Special.

Now you explain to me why this hasn't become a annual event on television? Oh well alright there was that episode with PeeWee in the "playhouse".... okay lets not talk about it! After all its Christmas in the Playhouse.

December 10 - 1902: Women are given the right to vote in Tasmania.
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Saturday, December 08, 2012

Kindle the Light of Hanukkah

~ מעוז צור ma'oz tzur*

A beautiful antique silver menorah from Palestine.
In many households tonight as the first candle on the menorah is lit Ma'oz Tzur will be sung.  A hymn recounting the fights against ancient enemies it is said to have been composed in the 13th century.  The history of this song is fascinating and filled with meanings both hidden and historical

This is a lovely version of the piyyut that many of my friends will be singing tonight as the Feast of Lights begins.  Its sung by Blackmore's Night and the English words Candice Night sings in the second verse are only one set of many translations that have come down through the centuries.

This English version of the old canticle is based on a German version by Rabbi Leopold Stein (1810–1882) translated by two renowned rabbis who immigrated to the United States, Marcus Jastrow and Gustav Gottheil.
Rock of Ages, let our song, praise Thy saving power;
Thou, amidst the raging foes, wast our sheltering tower.
Furious they assailed us, but Thine arm availed us,
And Thy Word broke their sword, when our own strength failed us.
And Thy Word broke their sword, when our own strength failed us.
An 18th century oil menorah from Poland.

Kindling new the holy lamps, priests, approved in suffering,
Purified the nation's shrine, brought to God their offering.
And His courts surrounding, hear, in joy abounding,
Happy throngs, singing songs with a mighty sounding.
Happy throngs, singing songs with a mighty sounding.

Small bronze hanging oil Menorah, c. 1900 based on 14th Century French Menorah

Children of the martyr race, whether free or fettered,
Wake the echoes of the songs where ye may be scattered.
Yours the message cheering that the time is nearing
Which will see, all men free, tyrants disappearing.
Which will see, all men free, tyrants disappearing.
Though a minor feast in the Jewish calendar Hanukkah has gained in significance as a feast to celebrate and share with family and friends - and in many home an extra place is set should a stranger come to the door in need of food and companionship.  

To my friends, who with their families, friends and perhaps that hungry wayfarer, begin this celebration of light as the darkest nights of the year approach: hahg same'akh (חג שמח)

My blog buddy Debra has one of the loveliest Hanukkah images on her blog - do take a look!

And two previous posts I've done on Hanukkah:
And Call It Lights

Happy Hanukkah - חג שמח

*Stronghold of Rock

08 December - 1660: A woman (either Margaret Hughes or Anne Marshall) appears on an English public stage for the first time, in the role of Desdemona in Shakespeare's Othello.
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Monday, December 03, 2012

Lunedi Lunacy

Oh sure Shakespeare has his "Seven Ages of Man" and his "winter of our discontent" but we can do him better here in Canada!  We have the "Oh Man, The Seven Ages of Our Discontent with Winter".

The Seven Ages of A Canadian Winter.

Yes I know it's that difficult time of year again, but come on people, we can get through this together. To better navigate our ordeal, it’s important that we take the time to review and prepare for the challenge ahead.   We've already been through the first two stages; be brave there are only five more to go.

1. Anticipation - October
 As the long, hot summer surrenders to the first hint of an autumn breeze, many of us experience a small thrill: the leaves are turn golden yellow and red; winter is on its way, bringing relief from the heat and promising the many splendours that accompany that most Canadian of seasons.

Ah the beauty of snow, the delicate patterns of lacy white on trees, the ice glistening on the frozen water, the feel of fresh snow under foot.  Oh Joy! Oh Rapture!

We envision snow-flecked landscapes, ice-covered ponds and joyful Christmas choirs. Digging deep into the closet, we gaze fondly upon our parkas and mitts. We dream of frosty adventures skating on the canal, swooshing down ski-hills and making snowmen.

2.  Shocked Surprise - November
The first cruel winds of November cut through us and we pretty much want to fall down and die right there.  Three days of hostile muttering ensue.

3.  Sarcasm - December
A huge December snowfall—awesome! And maybe a little freezing rain in there because THAT WOULD BE PLEASANT. Wake up and there’s a metre of snow in the driveway—and hey, great, it’s the wet, slushy kind that weighs about a squillion pounds per shovelful and lays those of weak heart in their graves. Yay winter!

A kindly gentleman from the city's snow brigade plows through the drifts, throwing it up the dirty and sand laden slush on to a freshly cleaned sidewalk.  And the newly plowed driveway?  Let's not go there - because frankly you can't!

Just when we finally get it cleared—literally, just as we finish clearing it away—the plow pushes a huge drift back in front of the driveway. Thanks for that, buddy! And for the record, that could have been anyone’s snow shovel that flew through the air and struck the window of the plow’s cab. We only ran away because we were in the mood for some exercise.

4.  Rationalization - January
 Yes January - that endless month, we are told it only has thirty-one days but we know that by some cruel joke in the time continuum it last twice that long - has two stages.

Typically this stage is triggered by an enjoyable day spent outdoors in the glittering sunlight of a January day.  We are imbued with the belief that not only can we survive winter, we can learn to love and embrace it.  We vow to plan more outings. We settle in for hot chocolate by the fireplace.

We look out the window into the deep black of a winter’s night and we are content . . .

5. Swearing
  . . . until we realize it’s only 4:35 p.m. Sweet mother of @!%*#. It’s pitch black when we go to work! It’s pitch black when we come home from work! There’s more daylight in Das Boot.

Our stylish leather boots are salt-stained. The legs of our pants are salt-stained. Our will to live is salt-stained, and that’s not even possible. At work, the guy two cubicles over is wearing the same wool sweater for the third time this week. It smells like a wet ferret. And now we smell like a wet ferret.  Morning comes and the ice on our windshield is thick, so thick, and we take our scraper and we just hammer on it and hammer on it until we crumble to the driveway, spent and weeping.

Later, at Starbucks, we overhear some cheerful idiot saying the Inuit have dozens of ways of saying “snow.” We tell him we’ve got hundreds of ways of saying, “Shut the $@*# up.” The ensuing conversation with management centres on whether we’re banned from all Starbucks or just this one.

A typical Ottawa intersection after a gentle white falling of snow has turned it into a slippery, snarled tangle of cars, buses and on the sidelines bundled up, wet, cold snarly people.

6.  Hostility- February
It’s late February. The snowshoes we got for Christmas are still in their box. Communication among family members has devolved to a series of grunts, crude drawings and middle fingers. In this dark moment, a decision is made. The next person who comes up to us and says, “Cold enough for ya?”—we are going to murder that person. Not secretly. Not with any foresight or planning. We are going to reach out with our bare hands and we are going to strangle the life out of that person right then and there, and if anyone tries to get in our way then we are going to murder them as well because we just... can’t..... take it.... anymore!

7. Despair - March
The neighbours are back from their March break in Florida. They’re all tanned and perky, and they sure seem eager to come over and tell us all about it—right up until they spot the barbed wire and land mines. They back away slowly.

But Spring is coming.  Dear Lord it must be coming. The nights are becoming shorter, the swish-swush sound of snowsuits is fading from our dreams to be replaced by the faint warbles of birdsong.   Our winter nights of despair will be over soon - the sweet buds of April will spring forth and blossom.  That is of course unless a late winter blizzard and ice storm doesn't freeze the little suckers to the bough.

That Shakespeare guy wants to see a winter of discontent - let him talk to us sometime around stage 6 - if he dare!

 With thanks to my friend David Smith who forwarded the inspiration for this one.

03 December - 1927: Putting Pants on Philip, the first Laurel and Hardy film, is released.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

World AIDS Day - II

In 2011 the World Health Organization announced that the slogan for World AIDS Day for the next 5 years would be: Getting to Zero.  As I posted last year this has to be more than a theme, or even a hope:  this has to be a goal.  A goal that all countries try to achieve - but one that sadly many countries - including my own -  are ignoring.

There are still nations in the world where people are told that AIDS is a "foreigner's disease"; countries where people are shunned because of the disease; countries where children are forced into prostitution and spread the disease and are discarded when they are too sick to "work"; places where it is preached as a less-than-loving god's punishment for an abnormal life style; and countries where promises are made and then  once the photo-op has passed ignored or given only lip service.  It would be nice to think that these are what were once called "third world" nations but sadly my own country is one of those nations that made grandiose statements and promises and claims to be a "world leader" is really only a bit player.

I made the statement at work the other day that I was ashamed of Canada but was quickly corrected and told that I had no reason to be ashamed of my country - we were still a nation of caring people.  What, I was told in no uncertain words, I should be ashamed of is my government.  And looking at events in the past few days I am in complete agreement with that sentiment.

On Thursday evening C389 an amendment to a bill that would have made generic pharmaceuticals affordable and available in third world countries was defeated.  A bill that would have gone a long way to meeting our commitment to be a nation that cares about AIDS at home and abroad lost by seven votes.  The next day on radio Mike Lake, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry mouthed weak excuses and platitudes about our continued role as a "world leader"in the fight against AIDS - unfortunately he could not give any concrete examples of that "leadership".  And in the interview that followed Stephen Douglas, a strong voice for AIDS advocacy, put paid to the party line as spouted by Mr Lake.  I found it strange that something so centred around health was addressed by someone with the Industry portfolio.  But then that is what it was really all about - protecting the pharmaceutical companies.  It had little or nothing to do with our role in combating AIDS in the world but more to do with making sure the big corporations were happy and protected.

And in our country a whole segment of the population has been, if not neglected, relegated to a minor concern in AIDS education process.  Yesterday figures were released by the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network; figures that indicate that our First Nations, Métis and Inuit are more at risk than any other group in our country.  According to statistics (2006 census) that though they represent only 3.8% of Canada's population, they account for 7.5% of Canadians living with HIV.

In 2008 aboriginal people accounted for 12.5% of all newly reported cases of HIV infections in Canada.  This was 3.6% higher than the rate for other groups that year.  Research is being carried out to find out why the rate is so high and there is real concern that an alarming number of aboriginal Canadians are engaging in risky lifestyles.  And in most communities the stigma attached to AIDS is ever present and a barrier to working together with the Federal Government to education people.  Families shunning members with AIDS and turning them out of the community is a not uncommon reaction.  And the remoteness of many communities means that treatment - and even diagnosis - is not always readily available.  There is a program in the works to produce educational material in aboriginal languages and groups like the Network are attempting to stem the rise in HIV and AIDS cases among aboriginal people by teaching young people — in a culturally appropriate way — how to protect themselves.  As with all organizations and people concerned with the spread of HIV and AIDS their goal is ZERO.

The Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network programme is an example of what must be done:  to reach that goal of ZERO there must be ZERO fear, ZERO stigma, ZERO discrimination, ZERO risks before we can reach ZERO new cases and ZERO deaths.

 The CBC has published an interactive map charting the global reach of the HIV/AIDS Epidemic.

 02 December - 1763: Dedication of the Touro Synagogue, in Newport, Rhode Island, the first synagogue in what became the United States.

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Saturday, December 01, 2012

Larry's Advent Calendar

As he has for the past six years my dear Larry has created a virtual Advent Calendar to count down the days until the Feast of the Nativity.  I'll quote from Larry's entry for this first day of Advent by way of introduction: 
Previous years I have posted Roman windows, doors, gates, angels and fountains. This year I will continue my Advent Calendar tradition with Modern Churches in Rome. It is a type of building that is usually not seen in the Eternal City by most visitors (and residents). Every day of Advent you will be able to log in and see a different church of the 20th or 21st century that I have encountered here in Rome.

A click on this very beautiful modern church door by Igor Mitoraj will lead you to the beginning of Larry's photo tour through some of the 250 modern churches often overlooked amongst the baroque splendour that dominates the city.

Another door by Mitoraj - one of the two for Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri - posted on the sidebar will give you access to each day's door and another modern church in our beloved Roma.

December 1 - 1885: First serving of the soft drink Dr Pepper at a drug store in Waco, Texas .

World AIDS Day 2012 - I

From GRC University of Portland
Christopher stopped blogging about five years ago and I must admit I miss the vicarious pleasure I received from reading of his seemingly charmed and good life in London.  But as often as he wrote of the gyms, restaurants, clubs and high life he would post a thoughtful piece that revealed the loving nature behind it all.  When I first read his post on World AIDS Day back in 2005 I was reminded of my own "win" in the lottery that so many of us played so unknowingly back in the day.

Once again this year I am posting his post as a reminder that so many of us have indeed "won the lottery".
December 1, 2005
I have lottery fantasies.

I dream about being able to buy fast cars and designer clothes until they come out of my ears. I want houses in London, New York, East Hampton and Rio. I want to be able to travel first class and work out at The Third Space and get reservations at Annabel's just because of who I am. I want to be able to take hot dates on tours of the National Gallery. When it's closed. Because I'm one of it's biggest benefactors.

Needless to say, twice a week, I am disappointed.

This morning, on the way to work on the tube, I was reading a Times article, written by Annie Lennox, about the millions and millions of people in Africa who are suffering with HIV and AIDS, and dying, and how the governments of the richer nations, such as the one I live in, have pledged support over an eight year period. And how they absolutely must stay committed to this goal.

One of the kids she spoke to on a recent trip to Africa was dying of AIDS. But before he got sick he lost his mother, father, brothers, sisters and pretty much everyone else he cared about to the same disease. He was totally alone in the world. With no hope. And certainly no dreams of fast cars or a nice comfortable house, anywhere. And that shit isn't even near the important stuff.

There are approximately 6,450,000,000 humans on Earth.

Most of them are not 33 year olds who have careers which afford them access to guest lists to the best clubs and bars the city has to offer. They don't have friends who will stick with them no matter what (and slip them Jil Sander dress shirts every now and then.)They don't have housemates who have Thai cuisine prepared and ready to eat when they arrive home. They don't have comfortable beds to sleep in at night.


When I think about it I kinda did win the lottery.

About 33 years ago


For Pierre, Lawrence, Bill, Jim, Don, Andrew, Brian and the many others that we've lost but still love and hold in our hearts.  And for my friends who may have lost the lottery but won the battle.

01 December - 1987: The first World AIDS Day was observed.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Santa Claus is Coming to Town 1953 - II

I've been a little late in getting to work on my Santa Claus colouring book but I've had a bit of a time finding a good old fashioned box of crayons. These days they have colours like Fairy Princess Blue and Little Girl Pink - I mean come on guys I want a box of crayons not clothes from the GAP!!!!

But here I am, crayons at the ready - let the parade begin!

I seem to recall that the parade always began with the Toronto Police Band - not a Metro entity in those days - playing "Jingle Bells". On can only think that after 2 hours of that cheerful little ditty that a dash to the Pilot Tavern was more favoured than dashing through any snow.

First appearing in the Toronto Parade in 1947 Punkinhead became a fixture for the next two decades.  He was the creation of Charles Thorson, one of the early Disney animators, who hailed from Winnipeg.  Thorson created Bugs Bunny amongst other famous cartoon characters, Patricia Atchison tells us the origins of the wool-haired bear and his colourful creator.  Note that even back then the marketing people were busy and any true bloody Canadian kid has hounded their parents into buying them a Punkinhead doll, watch, puppet, bedside lamp or, for the real die-hard Punkinhead aficionado, PJs.   As I recall the books were often free as gifts at the Punkinhead Fish Pond or as you disembarked from the Punkinhead Express that took you on a tour of Toyland.

One can only hope that the mermaids, mermen and good King Nepture himself were all well insulated under their scales and tails.  Taking into consideration the cold that could hit the Queen's City in the middle of November the costumes were made one size larger so that they could be worn over warm winter woolies.

The children of Eaton's employees and students selected from various schools appeared on the floats as flowers, fairies, elves and Snow White's seven.  If you appeared in the parade you had to endure fittings, some rehearsing and showing up at the Christie Pits marshalling area at 0630 on parade morning.   Over the years thousands of children were more than happy to do exactly that for the honour of welcoming Santa to town.

 30 November - 1886: The Folies Bergère stages its first revue.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Lunedi Lunacy

On my upcoming foray to London I thought that perhaps I would look into tea at one of the posh establishments - The Savoy? The Ritz?  But when looking at the menus I realized that "tea" wasn't meant for people with gluten intolerance. As lovely as those sandwiches, scones and cakes are the wheat content is enough to send the old gluten counter almost as high as the bill. And as I recall the last time I had tea at the Savoy with my darling Deb it was not the treat we expected it to be - though I am wondering if that invitation to let them make amends is still in force or has the statute of limitations taken effect?  Probably not!

However the thought of taking tea reminded me of this wonderful sketch from one of the most unlikely but marvellous pairings in show business in the days when television was more than talentless shows and fax-reality bimbi and bimbe exposing parts of their bodies that had been left covered.

Julie and Carol were perfect foils for each other - their timing was always totally in sync and they brought out the considerable best in each other.

When Julie makes the crack about opportunists avoiding taxes I am thinking there had been some to do about her being a "tax exile" just before this special was recorded. 

And by the way what they are having is not "high tea" but "afternoon tea" - for some reason the "afternoon tea" served to the more affluent between 3 and 5 has become confused by North American establishments with the working class or children's  meal of "high tea" served between 5 and 7.  The former was a "snack" howbeit a rather substantial one, the later being the main evening meal. 

26 November - 1917: The National Hockey League is formed, with the Montreal Canadiens, Montreal Wanderers, Ottawa Senators, Quebec Bulldogs, and Toronto Arenas as its first teams.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Santa Claus Is Coming to Town - 1953

 I'm not sure why I thought they were holding the annual Santa Claus Parade in Toronto early these days but the date in mid-November struck me as strange until I read a posting on JB's Warehouse & Curio Emporium. A right click on the advertisement for the 1918 edition of the parade will take you to his Notes on a parade that came right on the heels of the Armistice celebrations the week before. Santa was particularly welcome that year - but not as welcome as the boys who returned home in the weeks that followed.

So once again last weekend (November 18) as he has for the past 108 years, Santa made his way through the streets of Toronto.  His route took him along a familiar path - though he no longer stops at his old home at Eaton's - lined with cheering children and a good many nostalgic adults.   And many of the old favourites that most of us remember from our childhood were there but this year was not time-warp parade - there was an APP to follow Santa's progress, a Santa Cam that took pictures of the kids following the Big Guy's float and posted them on a website for download and Celebrity Clowns carried giant frames and invited kids to get behind the frame with them to snap photos with their smart phones or cameras.

Mind you we had technology in 1953 that was nothing to sneer at:  CFRB had daily dinner time radio broadcasts leading up to the parade, CBC televised it locally (okay so these days its broadcast worldwide) and we had the annual colouring book that any true aficionado had ordered, along with a new box of crayolas, weeks before from Eaton's.

So in the spirit of 1953 here's two links (Part I Part II) to a film made of that transmission (it was distributed to schools in the more remote areas of the country so children everywhere could welcome Santa to town.)  A bonus - for me at least - is one of those voices that I grew up with - Byng Whittaker reading 'Twas The Night Before Christmas.

Whittaker was the host of The Small Types Club,  a lunch hour children's program ( we all went home for lunch in those days) - introduced by The Teddy Bears' Picnic he'd read us stories as we munched our egg-salad sandwiches and slurped our tomato soup.  And when Byng said, “Ssssssscoot! Out to play, back into bed, off to school or whatever mother tells you,” we know it’s time to go.

And of course there was that colouring book.  I'm pretty certain I had mine and no doubt used a fine design sense to stay between the lines and give vibrant colour to the floats, clowns and bands.   |'m not sure if I would have mutilated the book by cutting out the Punkinhead puppet - after all I had a Punkinhead doll and a Punkinhead puppet - yes even then parents gave into to advertising pressure.

Over the next few days I'll be flipping through the pages of that 1953 colouring book - secretly wishing I had my box of crayolas to fill in the white with all the colours that I imagine delighted me when I finally had the chance to see them on the big parade day.

In previous years I've thumbed through the pages of the 1951 and 1952 colouring books - all of which were at one time available on the Archives of Ontario website for downloading and colouring.  I say "at one time" because it appears they have been removed along with much of the Eaton's Christmas memorabilia.

24 November - 1978:  Laurent Beaulieu came over for a drink, 34 years later he's still here!

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Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy American Thanksgiving

To my American Family and Friends

Happy Thanksgiving

22 November - 1837:  William Lyon Mackenzie calls for a rebellion against the United Kingdom in his essay "To the People of Upper Canada", published in his newspaper The Constitution.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Poems of War and Loss

Its difficult to know if Downton Abbey revived an interest in things Edwardian and British or the interest in things Edwardian and British spawned the popular TV series.  But we are once again - as were were in the late 70s-early 80s with Upstairs Downstairs and Duchess of Duke Street -  in the throws of a love affair with the British Upper class, their servants and life before the Great War.

Not owning a TV I have only seen the first season on iTunes so I'm not sure how or when World War One will be handled on the BBC series.  There has been a tradition - which began with the war itself - of painting a rather romantic picture of "the war to end war".  We know now,  as many did then, that there was nothing romantic about the trenches, the gas, the disease, the destruction and the bodies that were the battlefields of 1914-1918.   As in all wars the media published what the governments of the time wanted people to know: casualty figures that were acceptable but less than accurate; successes were emphasised ignoring the minimal gains made and cost of life to achieve them.  The trains overflowing with eager - and as the war progressed younger - men headed for the front left Victoria Station in the bright glare of the sun, those returning with the maimed and wounded in body and soul crept into the station under the darkness of night.  The public need only see the glories of war - singers, performers, painters, writers, composers, poets, all were enlisted to keep the fight for King and Country on the boil.  And many of them did and they cannot be blamed for doing so - the truth of the misery of the front was not something that would inspire victory.  But from the front itself came the voices that showed the open wounds that would never heal.  The poets of the battlefield

Even when I was learning history - Canada having none to speak of any significance according to the curriculum of the 1950s so we still relived the glories of the Empire - the romance of the war was still firmly in place.  I recall being told that  A. J. P. Taylor's The First World War was an unreliable source and wasn't permitted to use it in an essay I was writing.  Though in literature class we were told that there were war poets such as Wilfred Owen the only work we read was his poem which begins "Move him into the sun".  It was not until I was looking it up yesterday that I knew that he called this fruitless appeal to the sun to warm the body of a dead soldier "Futility".  Nor were we told that it was the least representative of his poems.  Perhaps we were too close to the end of another war that was going to end war and was fought for the glory of a fading Empire to be allowed to gaze on the horror of that earlier conflict.

Had we been allowed to read more of Owen or Siegfried Sassoon or Robert Graves,  we would have seen  the pain and bitterness - and awareness - that these incredible soldier-poets recorded in their notebooks as they crouched in their trenches or sat in their tents listening to the whizzbangs and waiting for the sirens that told them to don their gas masks.

Most of Owen's poetry had none of the gentle melancholy of Futility;  much was an indictment of the people who had brought them to those foreign fields that were to be planted with their bodies and become "forever England" or Australia or Canada or New Zealand.  Rupert Brooke's poem made it all seem romantic and patriotic - Owen's poems took a colder look at the men who had sent so many young men to die.

The Parable of the Old Man and the Young

So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and strops,
And builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretched forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.

But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

University of Oxford© [Copyright notice]

In surfing - if that can be considered the word for going through the pages of University of Oxford's digital archive of First World Ward Poetry I came across the name of Vera Brittain - an author and poet unknown to me.  Her story is a fascinating one of repeated loss of those she loved during that First Great War. They were loses that were to remain with her all her life and also the inspiration for much of what she wrote.

In 1915 she left Oxford to become a VAD (Volunteer Aid Detachment) nurse; in 1916 while stationed on the hospital ship HMHS Britannic at Mudros Bay, Lemnos - a small but strategic island in the Aegean - she saw the graves of three Canadian nursing sister who had died at the hospital camp there.  Inspired by their unsung struggle to tend the wounded and dying she wrote a poem that begins in a romantic vein but that for all its slight floweriness does nothing to hide the brutal edge of truth.
Brittain also worked in the prisoner of war hospitals tending the dreaded and dreadful Hun - and her words in The German Ward, though perhaps thought by many to be verging on the traitorous, cry that suffering was not the fate of only one side. 


O Golden Isle set in the deep blue Ocean,
With purple shadows flitting o'er thy crest,
I kneel to thee in reverent devotion
Of some who on thy bosom lie at rest!

Seldom they enter into song or story;
Poets praise the soldier's might and deeds of War,
But few exalt the Sisters, and the glory
Of women dead beneath a distant star.

No armies threatened in that lonely station,
They fought not fire or steel or ruthless foe,
But heat and hunger, sickness and privation,
And Winter's deathly chill and blinding snow.

Till mortal frailty could endure no longer
Disease's ravages and climate's power,
In body weak, but spirit ever stronger,
Courageously they stayed to meet their hour.

No blazing tribute through the wide world flying,
No rich reward of sacrifice they craved,
The only meed of their victorious dying
Lives in the heart of humble men they saved.

Who when in light the Final Dawn is breaking,
Still faithful, though the world's regard may cease,
Will honour, splendid in triumphant waking,
The souls of women, lonely here at peace.

O golden Isle with purple shadows falling
Across thy rocky shore and sapphire sea,
I shall not picture these without recalling
The sisters sleeping on the heart of thee!
University of Oxford© [Copyright notice]

Sadly the name of Vera Brittain is missing from this stone commemorating 16 World War I poets
in Westminster Abbey.  The quote is from Wilfred Owen's proposed preface to his poems. 

"My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity."

20 November - 1947: The Princess Elizabeth marries Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten,  at Westminster Abbey in London.

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