Monday, September 24, 2012

Lunedi lunacy

Offered without comment other there may have been a drought in our part of the world but other places had bumper crops.

Okay I will add that apparently this is a real vegetable grown in Brazil; a type of chayote  and called a Chuchu !  Which if urban legend is to be believed is a patois term of endearment????   Hmmm our are we just being taken in????

September 24 - 1664: The Dutch Republic surrenders New Amsterdam to England.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Mercoledi Musicale

I can't believe that in the past week I have missed the Tallis Scholars, The Harlem Gospel Choir and kd lang!  Now I must admit that I knew about all three months ago and meant to get tickets - I mean I really meant to get tickets but....

And that is one of my problems I keep meaning to do these things which is why I ended up buying subscriptions - that pretty much guarantees that I will go.  Though I must admit our Cathy sent me a little note about the Harlem gang but by the time I got home that night I was just too tired and it was raining and... and... and..    You see if I don't plan these things I don't end up going.  My bad!!!

So for my Wednesday Music (doesn't have the same ring in English does it???)  I though I'd feature a clip from each just to remind me what I missed and to suggest I start checking calenders and booking.

Tallis Scholars under Peter Phillips started off specializing in Early Music and though it is their forte have since branched out into modern church music to great effect.  But I thought I'd feature them in the music they performed on one of their earlier recordings.  The only word for the Palestrina Missa Papae Marcelli is miraculous and this 1980 performances approaches that adjective.  The "Kyrie" has been matched in this clip by pictures of two churches in France including Notre Dame de Garde in Marseilles - a church that I visited more than 45 years ago but remember to this day.

A few weeks ago Lara, Reg, Sonya, Laurent and I went to what was advertised as a "gospel brunch" at one of the local restaurants. From the publicity we were expecting at least a small gospel choir; what we got was a blues singer with three backup guys doing Wade in the Water and a few other gospel style numbers. I was expecting something more along these lines:

kd lang has almost reinvented herself as often as a few other current performers who I won't even mention in the same breath because they come no where near to having the talent and abilities of this remarkable singer. Maybe reinvented is not the right word, its just that her versatility is such that she can go from stadium, to concert hall to cabaret. She seems as comfortable in pop as she does in C and W, Blues, torch songs and jazz. And her sense of communication is... well if this doesn't rip your heart out you jsut don't have one!

My friend Maureen tells me that at tonight's concert she included Miss Chatelaine, Helpless and - be still my soul - Hallelujah. I've assured Maureen that I am not jealous of her - just bitter!

19 September - 1982: Scott Fahlman posts the first documented emoticons :-) and :-( on the Carnegie Mellon University Bulletin Board System.

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Monday, September 17, 2012

Lunedi Lunacy

For all my friends and colleagues who show up in the morning with those muffins that I can't have:

You Ate What You Eat????

17 September - 1859: Joshua A. Norton declares himself "Emperor Norton I" of the United States.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Tizku leshanim rabbot*

Ne'imot ve-tovot**

To all my friends, not just those celebrating this feast day: may your year be filled with the tartness of apples and the sweetness of honey; may your blessings be as numerous as the seeds of the pomegranate and the fish of the sea; may your happiness be as intoxicating as a flagon of good wine; may your laughter be as joyful as a sounding trumpet; and may there always be a candle to ban the darkness from your life.

The traditional Sephardic greeting for Rosh Hashanah:

*May you merit many years!

and the response:

**Pleasant and good one!

16 September - 1966: The Metropolitan Opera House opens at Lincoln Center in New York City with the world premiere of Samuel Barber's opera, Antony and Cleopatra.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Mercoledi Musicale

Ontario Youth Choir at
the National Gallery, Ottawa
Though I have not written much about, well anything lately but music more specifically since my return to Ottawa it has not been for a lack of music or musical events in my life.  Sadly of opera there is little here but we do have a rich orchestral and concert season and the luxury of not one but two summer classical festivals.  That and our darling Cathy who makes sure we are kept well aware of what is happening chorally and orchestral in town.  Thanks to her urging we attended a marvellous concert by the Ontario Youth Choir which for its unique blend of music, fascinating staging and young voices made for a remarkable evening on the theme "What is Life?" Though they may not have answered that question the young singers, from all over the province, gave every indication that music was their lives!  And they greatly enriched our lives with their music that evening.

Music and Beyond and Chamberfest both offer a wealth and variety of music over their respective two-three week periods.  In the case of both festival there can be as many as 5 events taking place in one day - some in small venues, others in more spacious halls, some may only last an hour while others are a full evenings entertainment.  Over July and August we had dance, chamber music, vocal recitals, piano concerts, trios, quartets, organ recitals, choral concerts, music from Renaissance to atonal, late night jazz, modern chamber operas and to end the Festival season a late night concert by Lemon Bucket, the only Balkan-Gypsy-Klezmer-Party-Punk Super-Band in Toronto.  Eclectic was definitely the word for the line up provided by the two festivals.

One of the joys of the past season was hearing Angela Hewitt not once but twice.  She appeared with the National Arts Centre Orchestra late last fall in the Ravel Piano Concerto and predictably knock our wooly socks off.  Afterwardss she hosted a small group of us at a coffee and desert reception and proceeded to charm us all with chat about her festival in Trasimeno, her love of the Ravel (she first played it when she was 13) and her upcoming concerts.

In the early spring she returned to her home town to be feted during Angela Hewitt Week in Ottawa and give a concert with the Ottawa Chamber Players.  I'll quote from her own website about the turn of events that evening took:

As soon as I returned to Ottawa from the West Coast, it was non-stop action for several days. At the concert in a packed-out Christ Church Cathedral on Friday night, the Mayor of Ottawa, Jim Watson, presented me with a plaque and a personalized citation commemorating Angela Hewitt Week in Ottawa. He told me to put it on the dashboard of my car to avoid getting parking fines for a week! Unfortunately Guylaine Lemaire, the violist of the Chamber Players of Canada, was unable to perform because of an injury, but Philippe Djokic from Halifax came at the last moment and played in the Schumann Piano Quintet. That was great fun! I used my new ipad for my score, turning pages with my foot using an Air Turn pedal (works by Bluetooth so no wires!). Fantastic! Takes a bit of practise, mind you, to get the co-ordination right. As the quartet couldn't play Schubert's Death and the Maiden with a new player at such short notice, I filled in the second half, performing solo Couperin and Ravel. It was wonderful to see so many friends and fans.
Angela Hewiitt - News
Angela Hewitt Week in Ottawa (2012-05-25)
So sadly we were denied the Death and the Maiden and had to do with a second half solo concert by Miss Hewitt.   We were all so disappointed - yeah right!!!!

What was rather touching, and is not mentioned in her report, was one of her encore pieces.  As she says the concert took place in Christ Church Anglican Cathedral where Godfrey Hewitt, her father,  was organist and choirmaster for 49 years.  As an encore she played Bach, as only she can play Bach,  a piano arrangement of Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring.  And familair as that piece may be she brought a depth of feeling to it that I would like to think was inspired by the venue and the memories it held for her.

As an interesting sidebar next June Miss Hewitt will be giving a benefit concert to celebrate the consecration of St Jude's Anglican Cathedral in Iqaluit on Baffin Island.  The original cathedral - a small igloo shaped building - was destroyed by arson in 2005.  A combination of the short building season, a construction company that went out of business because of the recession and a paucity of funding it has been a long struggle to get a new cathedral built.  Angela Hewitt promised that she would give this concert when the building was completed.  Though Iqaluit is 2085 kilometres (1296 miles) from Ottawa and a world away from Miss Hewitt's normal concert venues but the announcement of the concert came as no surprise.  And I was just remarking to Laurent that I was sorely tempted to go just for the pleasure of hearing her in an area of my country I have never seen but always wanted to visit.

12 September - 1899: Henry Bliss is the first person in the United States to be killed in an automobile accident.
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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Words Are Not Needed


September 11 - Lux æterna luceat eis

Monday, September 10, 2012

Lunedi Lunacy

I've always believed in a "doable" exercise programme.

And this seems to me to be highly "doable"!

10 September - 1918: Canine celebrity Rin Tin Tin was born - its an amazing story do click on the link!

Friday, September 07, 2012

Mr. Stanfield's Grand Moving Picture

I've been going through a whole pile of unpublished posts, some dating back to 2008, realizing that a goodly number should just be deleted, others are dated, others kept as examples of good ideas badly executed and then maybe a few that I could complete and post.  This entry was originally intended to be published this past January as I was heading over to London but packing and, as I recall, a technical glitch waylaid it.  What called it to mind is a remarkable slide show on the BBC website of paintings by Clarkson Stanfield.

January 13, 2012 - 1910: The first public radio broadcast takes place; a live performance of the opera Cavalleria rusticana is sent out over the airwaves from the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, New York.

I'm heading off to London tonight - it will be tomorrow I guess by the time this is posted -  to take part in an English tradition that goes back 300 years - the Christmas pantomime. Anyone who has followed this blog will know that I don't mean the "walking against the wind" "trapped in an glass cage" stuff that you see in the summer from buskers who think they are Marcel Marceau.  Pantomime or better yet Panto is that particular form of British entertainment that began when John Rich introduced the characters of Harlequin and company to the London theatre public in 1717.

What started off as "low opera" or intermezzi became a very specific form of full length entertainment that has evolved over the past three centuries, changed with the times and tastes, gone through bad periods and now seems to be on a new high.  For many years here in Ottawa we were visited each Christmastide by pantos produced in England by Tudor Davies and brought lock, stock and Dame from England.  Then Ross Petty took over and gave us amongst others a very memorable Aladdin.  But now it seems the only Christmas entertainment we get is another version of The Nutcracker.  So off I go to London to get my dose of panto for this year - and to see Dame Edna Everage in her debut as The Fairy of London in Dick Whittington.  She is one of many "stars" appearing throughout the British Isles in some 120 odd pantos being produced this year.

The London audiences of the 1828-29 Panto season were treated to an entertainment in the old "Grimaldi" tradition with not one but three Harlequins, a clown, Pierrot, Mr Stanfield's Grand Moving Picture and "the Surprising Foreign Dwarf".  All that preceded by a drama and a satirical piece.  A very full evening indeed.

Though there have always been "stars" in panto - John Rich, Joey Grimaldi, Dan Leno, Vesta Tilley, Herbert Campbell, Norman Wisdom, Julie Andrews, Cliff Richard (Cliff Richard???) - there was a period when audiences came not just for their favourites but for the processions, patriotic tableaux, transformation scenes and stage spectacle.  During the glories days at Drury Lane it was not unknown for a stage designer to take a bow on opening night after his latest creation had been unveiled particularly if that designer was Clarkson Stanfield and he had just produced one of his remarkable dioramas or moving panoramas.

We are assured that "Stanfield's Grand Moving Picture" was "the whole painted by Mr Stanfield from sketches made by himself".   It was a grand tour that took his audience from Spithead to Constantinople.
According to a playbill - one of the four (I've posted items about the other three here) that have been in my various homes for the past 40 odd years - for The Queen Bee or Harlequin and the Fairy Hive, the Drury Lane Christmas panto in 1828-29, Stanfield created a moving picture that took the viewers on a sea voyage from  "Spithead at Sunrise" through the Straits of Gibraltar and ending with a "Grand View of Constantinople".

Gibraltar - seen from two perspectives in the top and middle paintings - was a favourite subject for Clarkson Stanfield's brush as were stormy seas such as this one buffeting the Dogana and Santa Maria della Salute in Venice.  Perhaps this is not so unusual given that his early life was spent at sea as a "press ganged" member of the Royal Navy.  Stanfield abandoned scenery painting after the Drury Lane panto in 1834 and devoted his time to easel painting.
En-route the, no-doubt astounded, audience witnessed the Cowes Regatta and according to the playbill saw the entire "Turkish Squadron".  It is difficult to see how this fit in with the preceding or succeeding locations but logic wasn't necessary in a panto so why not go from Constantinople to "A Village near London".  And keep in mind that this was only Scene 13 of 17 of the third piece on the bill for the evening of January 20, 1829. The audience had already seen a drama entitled Charles the Tenth and Sheridan's satire The Critic.  It was a full evening's entertainment.
The principle behind the diorama or moving panorama was a one - a  grand painted canvas tracing one continuous scene unrolled across the width of the that unrolled across the width of the stage and allowed characters to made
Of his scenic display that year the Times of London wrote:
 When our memory glances back a few years and we compare in "the mind's eye", the dingy, filthy scenery which was exhibited here - trees, like inverted mops, of a brick-dust hue - buildings generally at war with perspective - water as opaque as the surrounding rocks, and clouds not a bit more transparent - when we compare these things with what we now see, the alteration strikes us as nearly miraculous. This is mainly owing to Mr. Stanfield. To the effective execution of the duties belonging to the scenic department, he brought every necessary qualification - a knowledge of light and shade which enabled him to give to his scenes great transparency and a ready and judicious taste for composition, whether landscape, architecture or coast, but more especially for the last . . . His present scene is fully equal - in some parts superior - to any thing he has heretofore done ... The view of Lord Nelson's ship the Victory, is the most gorgeous specimen of naval architectural painting that we ever saw ... The view of Gibraltar, bristling with fortifications is uncommonly fine. It exhibits an extent of space ... and a grandeur of elevation which seem to say "I am invulnerable".

The voyage of the John Bull was followed in this diorama as it set out from London, past the Tower and onward to Europe.  The various locales rolled behind the set piece of the ship as the passengers, and no doubt the audience, expressed pleasure and surprise at the vistas opening up to them.
First introduced into panto in 1820 at Covent Garden the moving panoramas consisted of a large canvas - Stanfield's design for Zoraster at Drury Lane was 482 feet long - rolled horizontally between two cylinders across the upstage area.  A diorama - like the one Stanfield produced in 1828 - was similar but produced a three dimensional effect with two painted, cut-out and sometimes transparent canvases place one in front of the other.  This allowed for further elements like the yachts in the Regatta to be moved between the two.  It was a triumph of the scene painters' illusionary art wedded with modern gas lighting and stage machinery.

To show how little some things have changed the panto I saw in Wimbledon, Dick Whittington, included a moving panorama that took us with the eponymous hero under the sea.  It wasn't painted canvas but projected and in line with modern trends and technology we donned Dame Edna glasses to witness the wonders of the deep in 3D.  Who says panto isn't modern and up to date????

07 September - 1911: Guillaume Apollinaire is arrested and put in jail on suspicion of stealing the Mona Lisa from the Louvre museum.
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Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Mercoledi Musciale

My friend Stephen posted this little meme (I guess that's what it is still called) on Facebook yesterday.

I won't even bother you with what my name was - I mean these things really are silly aren't they?  And besides not too many people would pay to strip - put my clothes back on maybe but strip?  I think not.

But it reminded me of one of those numbers that the combined talents of Stephen Sondheim, Jule Styne and Jerome Robbins guaranteed would stop the show in any production of that great musical Gypsy.

And here it is done to a turn by the combined talents of Bernadette Peters, Julia McKenzie and Ruthie Henshall - none of who really need a "gimmick to get applause".

And yes that lady at the end is Judi Dench - little known fact: she was scheduled to play Grizabella in the original London production of CATS but snapped her Achilles tendon during rehearsal and was replaced by Elaine Paige three days before the production opened.

05 September - 1698: in an effort to Westernize his nobility, Tsar Peter I of Russia imposes a tax on beards for all men except the clergy and peasantry.

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Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Gnome More

We have this old tree on the edge of the apartment property - its very very tall, very stately and very hollow. It would appear that in a combined effort squirrels and possibly termites has been working their way through its core.  Though the City has assured us of its stability, I have a feeling that some day during one of those big wind storms Ottawa is known for, it will split in two and come crashing down - taking part of the building and a ton of electrical wires with it. In the mean time it's weathered, lichen encrusted bark and the hollow at the base give it a rather Black Forest look in the middle of downtown Ottawa.

Some else must have twigged to its Grimm Brothers lost-in-the-forest aura because early this past weekend a little creature set up house in the hollow. 

Yes a gnome with a rather happy disposition - in fact at first glance it almost looked like the Disney franchise had moved in on Mcleod St - appeared to have take residence in the hollow.  For several days his presence brought a smile to the faces of passersby; and I might add a bit of confusion to Nora who normally hunts down the scent of her arch-enemies to that hollow. 

Unfortunately by late Monday afternoon the cheerful little fellow had pulled up stakes and moved to another - unknown - location.  Let's hope one of those pesky rodents that Nora is on the hunt for hasn't decided to squirrel him away! And that he's spreading smiles in another fortunate neighbourhood in our area.

04 September - 1949: The Peekskill Riots erupt after a Paul Robeson concert in Peekskill, New York.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Lunedi Lunacy

Since I'm in that mood here's a little Italian humour.

You're bipolar!

03 September - 301: San Marino, one of the smallest nations in the world and the world's oldest republic still in existence, is founded by Saint Marinus.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Veni Etiam*

*They gave the city the name Venetia as if to say Veni etiam – Come again!
Francesco Sansovino
Citta Noblisissima et Singolare - 1581

Painted between 1580 and 1585 the fresco maps in the Gallery of the Maps in the Vatican represent the Papal States and other regions of Italy during the papacy of Gregory XIII (1572-1585).  Venice was, of course, an independent Republic and often at odds with Rome and more than once under papal interdict.

I was chatting with my friend Marco the Napoletano a month or so ago and mentioning to him that over the past while I’ve been seized by a longing for Venice.  The French have “envie” and the Italians “brama” both of which have a depth of meaning but for English I didn't really couldn't come up with one word that adequately expressed what I have been feeling other than longing.  Craving? Hankering? Desire?  Lust?  Hmm not sure if all of those don’t in some way apply.  Though I had been travelling in Europe since 1967,  except for one brief stopover in Milan on my way from Aix-en-Provence to Salzburg in 1978, Italy was a country that just didn’t enter on my travel map until 18 years later.  In 1996 a trip to Venice was my serious introduction to Italy; though of course Venice is no more Italy than Rome, Palmero, Napoli, Milan or Trento is Italy.

I was no stranger to the Venice of novels, operas, plays, movies and travel books – this was the place of music, art, warfare, debauchery and intrigue.  It was the place of Monteverdi, Casanova, canals, gondole, La Fenice, the Lido and San Marco.  It was a place I had visited time and time again as an armchair voyager but now I was going to confront the reality of all those images and impressions.  I  flew in from Ottawa via London to meet Laurent who was coming in from Amman and as I looked out the aircraft window there in the bright sunlight was the lagoon and its many islands dominated by that great winding inverted S curve of the Grand Canal and what I immediately recognized as the Campanella in Piazza San Marco.  As with all things dreamt about there was a certain sense of apprehension; I remember thinking, well I'm either going to love or hate this place.

As I struggled with my suitcase over the cobblestone and narrow bridges from the dock at the Giardinetti Reali to our hotel beside the burnt out shell of La Fenice - despite fatigue (I had been on the road for over 20 hours at that point), hunger and jet lag - I felt that somehow this place would not disappoint.  Within a few hours I had succumbed to the pull La Serenissima has exerted on travellers for over a thousand years.  And four more visits over the next 16 years has done nothing to lessen that pull.

Now Marco being from Napoli has a natural aversion to much that is above the Great Apennine Tunnel (and even that may be pushing boundaries) so it came as no surprise to find out last summer that an impending vacation would be the first time he had been to Venice in his life.   On his return he told me how much he – I think to his surprise – loved La Serinisima; and as he said in our chat “it is such a romantic city” and he is right, particularly when you are seeing it, as he did, with someone you care about. That is not to say that Venice cannot be enjoyed on your own, just that perhaps it is a place best shared with others  - lovers and friends.  And if you can't share it in person then some of its magic can still be captured in pictures and words.  And so many pictures have been painted or been taken and countless words written in an effort to capture "Venetia".

So why this sudden "longing" to once again see Venice and to compulsion to revisit old photos and memories?  Blame it on those words!  In late April as I was trying to put some semblance of order into my books and discovered that I probably have more books about Venice - travel, anecdotal, historical and fiction than any other place on the plant.  I started rereading The Stones Revisited,  Sarah Quills' distillation of John Ruskin's The Stones of Venice: an exhaustive three volume study of the architecture of the Republic as Ruskin found it on his frequent visits in the early 1800s.  He wanted to record in drawings and words the many buildings he feared would be destroyed by the occupying Austrian the way that he felt the artists of the Renaissance had destroyed the majesty of the Gothic island Republic - physically, spiritually and morally.  Putting aside the Christian outrage he felt, his details are incredible - both graphically and verbal.  And despite his fears most of what he records still stands today - often the only changes being those created by the natural element that both gives Venice its glory and its despair - the Adriatic and the man-made element that give its citizens mostly despair - the local government!

Then  I came across Jane Turner Hyland's Venetian Stories - a series of interconnected short stories that caused a bit of a stir in Venice when it was first released - apparently realty was often thinly veiled as fiction and tales were being told.  It was also suggested that perhaps Hyland, who has lived in Venice for many years, had a few scores to settle and had decided to do it in non-libel fiction.  I had intended to pick up her second book, Across the Bridge of Sighs when it was first published but just never got around to.   However it was easily enough found on Kindle (I finally gave in and started reading e-books, not quite the same as holding a real book in your hand but easier for those bus rides in the morning).  Hyland continued the stories of many of the people she introduced in Venetian Stories - though I was sad to see that one of her more intriguing characters,  the aging gondelieri Volpon, had died at the hands of an inept Italian medical system.   In the first book Hyland's pen dripped a fair bit of acid but time has diluted some of the vitriol that had coloured her first book.  Though she does a fair job on several of the more objectionable parvenus her stories could have done with a bit more of that acid and some pruning from a less indulgent editor.  But I was happy to see that Contesssa Panfili had, in one of the more touching episodes, made peace with a Venice that was no longer the place of her youth.  Strangely much like Ruskin, Hyland and her characters often seem to be celebrating and mourning a Venice that has been changed by another element that is both its boon and bane  - the constant flux of tourists clogging its streets as they pour money into its coffers.

And often in Donna Leon's mysteries the constant parade of day-trippers - hotels are so expensive these days in Venice that it is cheaper, though very inconvenient, to stay in Mestre and bus or train it over - are often as much of  a source of irritation to Inspector Guido Brunetti, his family, friends and colleagues as the murders that seem to happen with alarming frequency in their home town.  I had gone off Leon for a while, her writing had become a bit too dark and at times almost preachy.  But I now realize that much of her disdain and despair for what was happening in Venice in particular and Italy in general was justified.  These are attitudes shared by many Italians and people, like myself, who love Italy.  Her two most recent novels - is it possible numbers 20 and 21 in the series? - still deal in murder, corruption, a crippling bureaucracy and a Venice beset by problems of bad government, a declining populations and increasing numbers of tourists but with a less heavy hand than the previous three or four.
Drawing Conclusions and Beastly Things include her cast of familiar regulars - Guido, his wife Paola, the enigmatic (though less cold with each story) Signora Elettra, his colleague Vianello and even, dare I say it, the pompous and much-despised Vice-Questore Patta have all grown into fully-realized people since Death at La Fenice back in 1992.  And that is what makes Leon so readable - her characters, even the murder victims, have a life of their own.  Not that she has given up on the social issues that beset Italy - and indeed much of the Western World.  Drawing Conclusions centres on the problems of care for the elderly in a world where the social net has been strained or is broken and Beastly Things begins with a short episode that brings the horror of dealing with a much loved spouse dead before their time with Alzheimer's tragically to life.  But along with the tragic we get the joyful and the quietly thoughtful - Brunetti's relationship with his family, his musings as he wanders the rias of Venice, the strange, unspoken and often strained bonds between colleagues and in Beastly Things one of the most devastatingly bittersweet conclusions to any novel that I've read in a long time.  I'm back on a Leon kick and will be more than happy when she produces number 22 and I can revisit Venice through the good Inspector's eyes.

In the meantime, until I can return to Venice to wander the campi, stop off at della Madonna for polenta with sepe and take an overpriced late night drink in front of the glorious stage set that is San Marco, I will have to settle down with one of the many other books that line my shelves.  The word for the moment will have to do - until it can be made flesh.  Though I'm not at all sure that "longing" can be truly satisfied until I have that coupe of pistachio gelato at Cafe San Stefano sitting in front of me.

02 September - 1666: The Great Fire of London breaks out and burns for three days, destroying 10,000 buildings including St Paul's Cathedral.

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