Monday, February 25, 2013

Lunedi Lunacy

No really its not aimed at anyone in particular!

Honestly it isn't!!! (snicker, snort)

25 February - 1570: Pope Pius V excommunicates Queen Elizabeth I of England.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Gung Ha Fat Choy - Gong Xi Fa Cai -

*The traditional Chinese New Year's greeting in Cantonese and Mandarin

Today is the fifteenth and final day of the celebration of the 6th year in the 12 year cycle of the solar-lunar calendar in most Asian cultures.  According to the astrology and legends of Northern Asia this is the year of the Snake.

And the predictions for the coming year:

After the turbulent year of the Dragon, the snake is a more positive sign, and it will likely bring advances in science, education and research. It is important to be open-minded during the year of the snake, which will be an exciting 12 months. Every one should be on the look-out for jealousy and secrets that work against their  interests.  It will be a year filled with new and different challenges.

For an individual horoscope for your own lunar sign why not check here.  But remember that much the luck for the year begins on your birthday - so in my case the predictions won't take hold until December.

The first month of the lunar calender is Yuan and the old Mandarin word for night was xiao: so today is the Yuanxiao (元宵节) or Lantern Festival.  The evening of the first full moon of the New Year is celebrated by filling the night with the light from lanterns and solving riddles inscribed on the lanterns, lighting candles outside houses to guide wayward spirits, eating glutinous rice balls (yuanxiao or tangyuan) and meeting with family and friends who are like family.

 In earlier times it was also a busy time for matchmakers:  young people went out chaperoned by parents or family and introductions were made between marital prospects.  With time the romantic (?) aspects of the festival gave way to the more generally festive in Northern countries; however it is still celebrated in Malaysia as a day when single women write their contact on mandarin oranges and throw them in a nearby lake or river.  The young men collect the oranges and eat them.  The taste is a good indication of how their relationship with the young lady will turn out - sweet or sour. Apparently the demand for sweet oranges is rather high this time of year.

The stories of how the Lantern Festival came to be are many and vary from place to place and often from century to century.  Some are very simple - Taiyi, the ancient god of heaven had 16 dragons and used them to control the destiny of the human world. Emperor Qinshihuang, who first united China, held the first Lantern Festival to ask Taiyi for good weather and health.

Perhaps the most complex also explains the name of the rice balls eaten on the last day of the New Year.   During the Han Dynasty a young maid at the palace of the Emperor was about to jump to her death when she was stopped from this rash act by a wish old man.  He discovered that she was despondent because she had not seen her family and done her filial duty in many years.  The wise man promised that she would see her family by the end of the New Year.

He set up a fortune-telling booth in the town and everyone who came to him to hear their fortune for the New Year was told the same thing:  on the 15th day of the new year the God of Fire would send a spirit dressed in red and riding a black horse to burn down the town.  The maid pretended to be the fairy and came with a decree on the 13th day warning the Emperor of the impending disaster.

The Emperor turned to the wise old man and asked for his advise.  The old man told him that the God of Fire love to eat tangyuan, those sweet, round glutinous rice balls stuffed with sweet sesame, peanut and red bean paste.   The Emperor decreed that everyone in town should make tangyuan to worship the God of Fire and hang red lanterns outside their homes and light fireworks.  This would both placate the God and deceive him into believing the town was already aflame.

That evening the whole town, including the young maid's family, gathered outside the palace to gaze in wonder at the decorations and feast on the sweets.  The maid and her family were reunited, the festival was a great success with the people and the Emperor hailed for saving them from the anger of the God of Fire.  It became and annual celebration and since the little maid had cooked the best tangyuan both the dish and the festival ever after bore her name:  Yuan Xiao.

Other than yaunxiao, tang yuen is also eaten during auspicious family celebrations and Winter solstice or “dong zhi” (冬至), which usually falls on the 21st or 22nd of December. The round and sticky dumpling balls symbolize family closeness and togetherness.

Sadly the website that allowed me to send Hui Chun, the traditional greetings for New Year's, no longer operates so I will send to all those I love, and to those that they love this greeting for the New Year.

And it bears a wish I wish for us all: May All Your Wishes Come True.

24 February - 1607: L'Orfeo by Claudio Monteverdi, one of the first works recognized as an opera, receives its première performance.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Mercoledi Musicale

I know I haven't written much about our cultural life in Ottawa since our return so you could be forgiven for thinking that I have been musically/theatrically/terpsicordilly deprived in the winter wasteland that is Ottawa.  And if you have that impression then it is entirely my fault.

Granted there is one ..lly missing from the list and that would be operatically but we will let that pass for the moment.   But for the other "arts" the calender - though perhaps not as crowded with big names - is still a crowded one.  Between our subscriptions for the NAC orchestra, two dance series, the Great Canadian Theatre Company, Chamberfest, the Cantata Singers and other groups here in Ottawa we are out often twice a week to concerts, recitals or plays.  In February we've had the National Ballet of Canada with their new production of Romeo and Juliet; unfortunately a late work day and exhaustion meant missing the Brahms Alto Rhapsody with the NAC Orchestra; Ballet BC in a programme of modern dance - the William Forsythe piece beautifully done, the rest... boh!; the NAC theatre company in a fascinating staging around and in  a swimming pool of Ovid's Metamorphosis; and last evening a piano concert by Angela Hewitt.

Miss Hewitt appears in Ottawa frequently - she is after all a hometown girl - and the concerts always have a special, almost familial, air to them.  She appeared here last year twice - once in the Chamberfest Winter series with The Chamber Players of Ottawa.  That evening one of the players had taken sick and the substitute did not have time to feel comfortable with the second piece of the evening so we had to make do with (!) Miss Hewitt playing Le tombeau de Couperin.  Several months later she appeared with the NAC orchestra for the Ravel Piano Concerto and hosted a small coffee reception afterwards.  She proved as gracious a host as she was a brilliant musician.

This time it was a solo concert with, on paper at least, an unusual programme of Bach and Debussy. It seemed an unlikely combination but the Bach French Suites 5 and 6 with their dance movements dovetailed with Debussy's Baroque influenced Pour le piano and the dance tempi of Suite bergamasque.  Even the encore - Ravel's Pavane pour une infante défunte - kept us in the realm of Baroque-influenced dance.

I will be the first to admit that Bach does very little for me.  I can admire the musicality, the originality, the line of Bach's music however I find that it very seldom moves me.  I recognize that Miss Hewitt is considered the preeminent keyboard interpreter of Bach and even her playing gives rise to only admiration for the genius of Bach on my part.  However last night her playing of the Sarabande in the Suite No. 5 gave me an emotional charge that both surprised and delighted.

I don't normally associate Debussy with passion - romance yes passion not so much.  But passion was a quality that Miss Hewitt brought to all three Debussy pieces.  It is always fascinating to watch the body language of pianists and, if possible, to watch their hands.  From our seats Mezzanine-left we had a perfect view of Miss Hewitt and the keyboard.   Though she is never less than elegant there was a marked difference in the way her arms were held and her body moved between the Bach and Debussy.   For the one more formal - I wont' say ridged - and for the other her body seeming to flow with the music.  For the Bach the hands moved majestically over the keys; for the Debussy they often seemed to flow and even the complex cross-hand playing had a remarkable fluidity.

She took the Clair de lune movement of the Suite Bergamasque the slowest I have ever heard it played.  There is always a danger with choosing that sort of tempo that things sound dragged or  fall apart and become disjointed but last night the risk paid off.  In a word it was "sublime" and I was as carried away as Miss Hewitt obviously was in this clip from a recent performance at CBC Toronto.

In a previous post I mentioned that Miss Hewitt will be giving a benefit concert at the newly re-built St Jude's Anglican Cathedral in Iqaluit this summer.  The original cathedral, and many of the native tapestries and art work that adorned it, was destroyed by fire - reportedly arson - in 2005.  The long struggle to rebuilt has been completed and the cathedral was consecrated in June 2012.  Angela Hewitt has strong ties to the Anglican church and promised to go to Iqaluit and give a benefit concert when the building was completed.  And on June 12 she will make good on that promise and I am sorely tempted to join her and a party of her Ottawa fans on the 2000 km journey to the North.  We shall see.
The original St Jude's Cathedral in Iqaluit was built in the shape of an igloo and the new Cathedral
follows that design concept.  The sanctuary (above) was hung with native tapestries from the regions
of the Arctic and the altar cross was made of narwhal bone - sadly most of the artifacts were lost in the fire.

20 February - 1959: The Avro Arrow program to design and manufacture supersonic jet fighters in Canada is cancelled by the Diefenbaker government amid much political debate.

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Monday, February 18, 2013

Lunedi Lunacy

Why a potato makes a better gift than roses on Valentine's Day!

Well, there's a lot of reasons
I mean, roses only last like a couple weeks
and that's if you leave them in water.
They really only exist to be pretty
so that's like saying:
my love for you is transitory and based solely on your appearance.

But a potato!
Potatoes last for f......g ever, man!
In fact, not only will they not rot, they actually grow things
even if you just leave them in the sack;
that part alone makes it a good symbol.

But there's more!
There are so many ways to enjoy a potato! You can even make a battery with it!
and that's like saying:
I have many ways in which I show my love for you.
And potatos may be ugly, but they're still awesome
so that's like saying:
It doesn't matter at all what you look like, I'll still love you.
I only wish my friend Lara had sent this to me last week - it would have been so much cheaper!

February 18 - Pedro Lascuráin becomes President of Mexico for 45 minutes; this is the shortest term to date of any person as president of any country.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Lunedi Lunacy

This one's for Simon:

Boy I don't want to be the other guy when he tells his mommy!!!!!

11 February -  1916: Emma Goldman is arrested for lecturing on birth control.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Lunedi Lunacy

I must say the one thing I don't miss about Italy is the TV shows. Sure this show was done in the early 1980s but I'm not sure who much things have really changed.  Well okay the girls and boys wear a bit less but they still do the same routines.

Here's Stefania Rotolo in OMAGGIO ALL'AMERICA

There is so much about this that is just wrong!

February 04 - 1859: The Codex Sinaiticus is discovered in Egypt.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Winter Wonderland

Okay we get this straight from the beginning - I do not like winter!  Every year for four, five or, since this is Ottawa, six months I curse the gods that made my family turn left when they hit Montreal rather than right.  I dislike the cold; I detest wearing five layers of clothing; I hate the gravel that the soles of your boots pick up and deposit in entrance ways; I do not enjoy snow shoeing my way through drifts to get to the bus; and while I'm at it I'm not to fond of the bus which smells of damp wool and is awash in melting snow.  I do hope I'm making myself perfectly clear - I DO NOT LIKE WINTER!

However there are times when a falling of new snow on the landscape can have that look of a charming picture postcard and I sigh at the beauty of winter.  Just as long as I don't have to shovel or go out in it fine.  I am more than happy to look at it - marvel at the beauty of what cold can do to droplets of water and move on to the warmth of hearth, home and a glass of wine.

The picture I've used as a header the past few days is a winter scene from Saskatoon.  I'm not sure where in Saskatoon or even where I found it but it is rather lovely in a Bergman-Pushkin way. 

Can't you just imagine walking through this enchanting landscape: the silence; the whiteness; the virgin snow crunching under your feet; a rosy glow infusing your cheeks; a bone-chilling cold cutting through your undershirt, flannel shirt, two sweaters, scarf, goose-down coat, ear-muffs, toque, insulated gloves, two pairs of wool socks and mukluks.   No thanks I'll just sit here and throw another marshmallow on the hot chocolate:  winter really is lovely - in pictures!

03 February -1916: Parliament buildings in Ottawa, Canada burn down.

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Requiem for A Penny

Tomorrow, February 4, 2013, will be the last day that the Royal Canadian Mint will distribute the noble penny.  A coin of the realm for the past 155 years, the last of those bright sparkling, or after a bit of use dull dirty, cooper circles was minted on May 4 of 2012.

Not of course that the penny will disappear - there must be thousands of jars in homes across the land brimming over with them.  After all what else did you do with them?  They weighed down in pockets and took up room in change purses so the obvious place for them was in that old pickle jar or that big faux-Chinese vase that Aunt Mildred gave you for your first apartment.  And when the jar/vase was full there was the fun task of rolling them, only to find that you only had thirty dollar and 49 cents - there was always that one roll at the end that you couldn't quite complete.  All that work with so little return.  Damn pennies - who needs them anyway?

Well our Government in their wisdom decided to address that pressing question in their Economic Action Plan 2012 - the penny would be produced no more!  And their reasons were manifold:  the excessive cost of producing the coin (it is rumoured that it costs 1.06¢ to produce 1¢); environmental considerations (not sure what impact a penny has on the environment but....); and the handling costs that it imposes on retailers, financial institutes and the economy in general????  That and that fact that being a nation of hoarders we apparently have millions of them at home.

And what will be the benefit to us as Canadian when the penny disappears? I mean there must be a benefit to us little folks or our Government wouldn't have made such a weighty decision.  Well according to the Great Leap Forward EAP2012 it will save us taxpayers 11 million dollars a year.  With such a dent in the national debt I can hardly wait to see what sort of tax break it affords me in the coming years.  I'll let you know how that turns out in a future posting.

Now lest it be thought I am against the disappearance of said coin I am not.  The economics of ceasing to produce something at a loss makes sense to even someone as vague as myself when it comes to dealing with the Economy. The thought of no longer receiving coins that will wear holes in the pockets of my Land's End all weather dress pants fills me with joy.  And the very idea of no longer having to wash the dirt of my hands after rolling thirty dollars and 49 cents of pennies gives me some satisfaction.  So I will not weep tomorrow as the Royal Mint doles out their last remaining stock.

However that does not mean that tears will not flow in the next little while.  The penny is still accepted as the smallest unit in our monetary system and will still be included in calculations on goods and services.  And given the various taxes throughout our fair land the price of almost every article purchased from a chocolate bar to a Rolls Royce ends up in pennies.  This will be no problem if you are paying with a credit card or a cheque.  However if you are paying with cash - and yes some people still pay with cash - it will be up to the merchant if they wish to take them or not.  Should they choose not to they have a rounding up/down system which should prove interesting.  If the price is $1.01 - $1.02 then you pay $1.00 if its $1.03 - $1.04 then you pay $1.05.  I'm not being cynical but I have a feeling - based on something a cashier at our work cafeteria said - that it will be the $1.05 more often than the $1.00 for most things.

However I will cease to be a Casandra on the subject and go off and roll my remaining pennies - though I am wondering what is going to happen to all that copper when its returned to the Bank of Canada?  At a current price of $3.75 USD per pound the Government should realize another couple of million which will shave even more off my taxes!  Again I'll keep you posted.

In the meantime the Royal Canadian Mint has designed a rather fun infograph on the history of our late (lamented?) penny.   A left click on the small version of it I've posted on the left will take you to "The 1¢ Story".

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Saturday, February 02, 2013

Let the Bells Ring Out .....

.... Let the Banners fly!

Yes its Groundhog Day - the day when Marmota monax across North America, for some inexplicable reason, break their hibernation cycle, pop their little furry faces out of their burrows, make sucking whistling noises and look for their shadows.  Now why these little rodents would do this no one seems to know and where exactly this augurial talent fit in with their ability to decimate a lovely patch of bachelor's buttons (yes I know its been 7 years time to get over it!) has never been explained.
Many thanks to Skip at Skip's House of Chaos for this one.

And where the heck did this tradition start?  Well its a stretch but today on the Christian calender is Candlemas or the Feast of the Presentation - once known as the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin of Mary, but let's not go there - and there is an old Scottish couplet that warns : "If Candlemas Day is bright and clear, there'll be two winters in the year."  So it could be that Groundhog Day is a bit of reversal on the Christian tradition of hijacking Pagan Feasts.  Though of course Candlemas - the day on which all the candles to be used throughout the year are blessed - was possibly a hijacking by Christians of the old Celtic feast of Imbolc.  So the wheel of karma turns - oh wait a minute that's another tradition.

What ever the reason for this secular Festum Marmota Monax may be, news wires across the continent are burning up with the results of this year's predictions - if indeed there are still news wires and they are combustible.  As the sun moves from Atlantic to Pacific the tally has been mounting:
Now my list could continue on as it seems many places across North America are claiming they have the true prophet of spring in their care however every one knows that the only serious seers of the seasons are Willie and Phil.  And as I bundle up to go out in the -17c that is Groundhog Day, Candlemas or what you will I'm going with Willie and Phil.  And if they are right I promise to forget about the bachelor's buttons !

Update:  All stations now reported in - and the consensus is "early spring"  which in Ottawa means sometime in late May - early June.

*Apologies to Balzac Billy for confusing him with Brandon Bob - after a while one groundhog looks like the last groundhog.

02 February - 1901: Funeral of Queen Victoria

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