blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Contrasting Doors Open concerts

Re. the DOMS Wednesday lunch hour concert series, I went to one of these concerts last month, on St. Valentine's day and one today (March 7th).

The February one was A Trumpet Romance, with Peter Crouch on the trumpet playing pieces chosen for St. Valentine's, including some romantic compositions of his own (one of these written for his wife, he said), accompanied on the piano by Nick Rodgerson. To start with, the two men played an arrangement of the traditional Irish song, Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms, and a series of similarly sentimental numbers followed, including some "Spanish music of love": Crouch's arrangement of the Adagio from Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez and the Habanera from Bizet's Carmen. The trumpeter took a break by turning pages for his accompanist, who played a famous "Consolation" by Franz Liszt, solo; this was followed by the arrangement for trumpet and piano of a Saint-Saens aria. They finished with a rendition of Johnny Mercer's Skylark, which Mr. Crouch confessed was his "favourite type of music."

Today's concert was more serious, with the crucifix at the front of the church (i.e. behind the performers) draped in sheer purple for Lent. Southminster has an attractive interior with multicoloured stained glass windows and an embroidered wall-hanging that states: BIDDEN OR UNBIDDEN, GOD IS PRESENT.

The music was by J.S. Bach, the harpsichord played by the Artistic Director of the DOMS concerts, Roland Graham, with Christian Vachon on the violin. They performed three of Bach's first group of six Violin and Harpsichord sonatas: Numbers 1, 3 and 4. Numbers 2, 5 and 6 will be presented at a matching concert later in the year, on June 6th, by the same performers. It is wonderful music of the 1720s, the two instruments in an equal partnership which, so the violinist told today's audience, was an original idea in those days. The six-pack of sonatas was according to the conventions of the Baroque period, though.

Each sonata took about 15 minutes to play. We heard the two minor sonatas first (No. 1 in B minor and No. 4 in C minor) and they finished with the major one (No. 3 in E major). Their concentration on the notes was palpably intense. The C minor sonata was particularly impressive, the violin part in the opening Largo movement resembling the obligato part for Erbarme dich, mein Gott --- the famous aria in Bach's St. Matthew Passion, with its meditative, spiritual qualities.

BWV1017 1 Siciliano excerpt.jpeg

The Allegro movements were taken at a lively pace; the fugal second movement must have been particularly challenging for the harpsichordist. The other slow movement (Adagio) in this sonata was also lovely, with the violin line at a lower pitch than the harpsichordist's right hand, which played an elaborate melody in counterpoint. This minor key movement ended with a major resolution, as is often the case with Bach.

Similarly startling, in Sonata No. 3, the Adagio movement, in a contrasting minor key, seemed to end on an incomplete cadence. The final movement of this sonata bounced along in 9/8 time like a Gigue.

After the concert was over I caught the violinist's attention and told him that I had enjoyed every note of this concert.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

End of the day, in Kingston

We did well this Sunday, first driving north to meet Elva and Laurie at the MacKenzie King Estate in the Gatineau Park to follow the Lauriault Trail, less than 4 kilometers. However, according to the app. on Laurie's smartphone, the hills you climb on this walk are the equivalent of going up flights of stairs in a 35 storey building; you might think twice before attempting that, but you don't mind the ascent under blue skies between the lovely trees, taking it at an easy pace in good company. There was a fresh covering of snow on the slopes, not deep, just enough to cover the icy patches. I'm glad I wore the spikes over my shoes this time, didn't slip once.

Free of ice, the stream was flowing through the valley, with little water falls and clear pools in it. Woodpeckers were knocking at the maple trunks and crows were soaring on the thermals over the south side of the hills. It is starting to feel like spring although there is not a trace of green, nor of buds, or sprouting plants. We must be patient, since it's only the beginning of March. We watched enthusiastic skiers go by as we crossed their trail. In Chelsea, hundreds of cars were parked so that Chris and I had four goes at finding a space. Elva and Laurie, more lucky, saved seats at a table for us in the lively Chelsea Pub, where we ordered large salads, or in Chris' case, fish and chips.

Chris wanted to go flying this afternoon and again (with a day off work) tomorrow --- to Kingston, he said --- so Elva asked, "Why don't you go to Kingston this afternoon, spend the night there, and fly back tomorrow?" We thought: that's a good idea, so we did.

We took off from CYRO at about 3pm at which time the sky was quite overcast and dark with snow clouds to the east, but obviously clearing to the west, as was soon confirmed once we were up above the Ottawa VOR near Aylmer. Our route was obviously going to be mostly in the clear; we only flew through one area of precipitation (sparkling fast moving snowflakes), near Carleton Place. Chris sensibly asked for flight-following from Montreal Centre Air Traffic Control outside the Class C controlled area, which gave us ATC protection until we were only 10 NM away from Kingston. The scenery was as beautiful as I've ever seen it, today, shining bright lakes, the thin ice reflecting the sunlight, and the grassy areas mostly clear of snow, even at this date! Another aircraft from Rockcliffe, C-GMME, was flying the same route at the same time as we; we knew of its whereabouts but only actually saw it once, when we were on the ground at Kingston. During the flight the winds were gusty, but not violently so, and we had a 25 knot tailwind which made our time en route 10-15 minutes faster than usual. We told the taxi driver about this on our ride into town and he made some knowledgeable responses. He'd also had a go at learning to fly.

At home I had quickly found a hotel room online, not spending too long researching the possibilities; we're staying (like Elva and Laurie on their last visit here) at the Sheraton Four Points on King Street. It is comfortable and conveniently placed and we have just been in the swimming pool and hot tub on the 4th floor. The sinking sun lit the city sights (domed roofs, waterfronts, ferry) very nicely this evening. Before it got dark we sauntered up and down the central streets, seeing people skating on the ice rink in the market square behind the city hall, and sat down to share a muffin in Balzac's Coffee Rosterie on Princess Street. After all the exercise and excitement I was still hungry, so we found a satisfactory early supper at Mango, a "pan-Asian" food place, also on Princess Street.

Retracing our footsteps in the dark and then extending the walk a few blocks brought us back to the Sheraton where Chris promptly fell asleep on the bed (this was before we went to the pool).

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

People and places

Where to start? People or places?

This trip was to see people rather than places. Although well planned in advance, it felt miraculous to see George (from Australia) meet us (from Canada) at the airport and then have our daughter (in England) join the three of us that same morning on the street outside NPL where she works; she had slipped out between meetings to give us a hug. That weekend, her sons seemed pleased to spend time with their rarely seen Uncle George who gave them a model Maglev train from Japan and taught them to play Chinese chequers.

When my mother was a girl in the 1920s, she used to have an exotic Uncle occasionally visit from Rhodesia, bringing candied fruits with him.

My mother is vague as to who came to call on her at the end of January, only aware that she’s “had a lot of visitors recently”, as she puts it. To see George delivering her Chinese and Australian gifts from that great distance and holding her hand was an important moment for me. My sister and brother-in-law, George’s cousins and 5-year old Phoenix also enjoyed George’s company that week; George kept Phoenix entertained with paper dragons and toy koala bears for hours and even, using the computer, created a movie starring Phoenix, what a thrill for the boy! One fine morning, Faith, Mel and Rhiannon took George down to Dunraven Bay where they had the beach to themselves and found fossils. They got back up the cliffs on steep ladders, near a waterfall that made a rainbow against the rocks. We had a congenial family supper at the Gwaelod y Garth Inn, despite the fact that at least three out of the seven of us were fighting the flu that evening. I shared some lunches with my mother too and one afternoon read her the poems she has written at various stages of her life, which awoke many old memories. When we said goodbye to her (perhaps for the last time in George’s case) she was feeling sleepy in her chair, stroking a stuffed toy hedgehog, didn’t quite realise we were going and so the farewell caused less of a pang than it might have.

February 1st, Chris and I took George to Goldcliff where our friends live; we were there last February too. Kay served us some lunch and Andy led us on a refreshing walk up a lane through the fields, beside the irrigation ditches, letting us appreciate the fresh air, the wayside primroses, and a familiar panorama of hills to the north. Then we drove through Newport to Cwmbran where we’d lived for over three years in the 1990s, although I was the only one in the car who recognised the streets there. The two men did at least remember the house where we used to live, at the top end of Wesley Close. There was no need to linger, so we pressed on to Abergavenny and Crickhowell in the Black Mountains, spending two nights under low beams in the attic of The Dragon Inn. We had supper at a rival inn up the street, The Bear, 500 years old.

February 2nd was a fine day for driving to Hay-on-Wye on the narrow old roads through the hills, through “the most beautiful landscape in the world”, as Chris called it. We stopped at the peaceful, enchanted little whitewashed church, no bigger than a cottage, St. Mary’s of Capel-y-Ffin, which Emma tells me she remembers, though her brother doesn’t. It has a dozen teddy bears of various sizes sitting on the front pew, a harmonium, a balcony with a crucifixion painting by David Jones on the wall, and a wonderful altar window overlooking the mountainside with calligraphy etched into the window panes by Eric Gill, saying the very appropriate opening words of the 121st psalm: I will lift mine eyes unto the hills, whence cometh my help. I can imagine wanting to be buried in the little graveyard outside, outside of time, where birds sing in the ancient yew trees. Across the road from the church an old fashioned phone box still stands, one of the few left in Britain, next to a whitewashed farmhouse. This tiny community was an artists’ commune in the 1920s; I gather it was primitive and wild in more than one sense. Some of the artists were suffering from PTSD after their 1st World War experiences.

Then we slowly rolled further up the Vale of Ewyas and across the Gospel Pass, snow on the hilltops, where wild horses roam. This was our last full day with George, from whom we parted at Cardiff Central Station at lunchtime on the 3rd, roisterous rugby fans milling around us on their way to a Wales-Scotland match at the Cardiff stadium. Back he went to New South Wales, with Chris and I continuing north on the trains to Manchester and York, seeing enticing views of the hills between Abergavenny and Church Stretton (under the Long Mynd), breaking our journey overnight at Shrewsbury. No family or friends there, though I had vague memories of a hiking holiday in this part of England with my parents and sister when we were teenagers. We stayed at the Premier Inn beside the bus station, opposite the river bank, quite a comfortable lodging. Despite the grey skies and rain, Shrewsbury city centre was an interesting place, with more tudor buildings still standing than in any other town in England, apparently. It has a red stone medieval castle, a mock tudor railway station that’s quite impressive, and an all-inclusive museum where I learned about Charles Darwin, who grew up here. I also found some good paintings there, including a watercolour by Turner of Shrewsbury’s English Bridge over the Severn as it looked in the 19th century.

Beyond Shrewsbury, on Sunday, the views were increasingly northern, the area around Crewe and people on the platform there depressed-looking. We changed at Manchester Piccadilly for the Transpennine Express to York, a fast train that took us through snow-capped hills. There was an atmosphere of fun on the train, with three ladies in their 60s returning from a wedding, in the seats across the aisle, proposing toasts with glasses of champagne. The steward with his Yorkshire humour kept announcing over the tannoy that “John” was able to serve us refreshments at the rear of the train, but couldn’t come through the other carriages with his trolley because of “all the loogage and too many bodies”! We came through Huddersfield and Leeds, the dark satanic mills still prominent features of that landscape.

We reached York on the afternoon, in time for Chris’ work meetings on Monday 5th. Once more we had a reunion with friends because Rob and Sally and two of their daughters live there; during the week we met Jenny, now working on a PhD at York University, and all of Bryony’s family. On Sunday Sally immediately took us for afternoon tea at the famous Betty’s tearooms, made us supper at her house and she and Rob joined us for two restaurant suppers (one at the York Assembly Rooms, now a stylish Italian restaurant) as well as treating me to lunch on Wednesday, my free day, when we walked right round the city walls.

On the Tuesday I met ghosts, including the ghost of my former self, by taking the train the Yorkshire Wolds country, from York to Scarborough and back, so that I could walk to the places I knew while I was a pupil at the Scarborough Girls’ High. I didn’t go to the school itself, but did walk with a rapidly beating heart past my old house and up Throxenby Lane to Throxenby Mere --- ducks, swans and Canada geese swimming there --- and the steep Raincliffe Woods; I went up Throxenby Lane in the direction of my primary school too, before catching a bus (from the same brick-walled bus-stop as ever) back into town, names and moments coming back to me all the way. Or is it a landscape of dreams that I remember? In town I rediscovered the harbour, the beach and the spa, only superficially changed since the 1960s. Even Boyes’ department store was still prominently doing business. Carol Boyes used to be in my class; I slept in a tent on her back lawn, once. From the beach I had a good view of the ruined castle and St. Mary’s large church where on one occasion I sang Faure’s Pie Jesu solo, having a job to keep in synch with the distantly placed organ. Half a century later, snow flurries filled the air as I climbed from the rockpools to the Italian Gardens in the South Bay.

My Scarborough day ended (back in York) with my attending Evensong in the Minster, which happened to be a special service on the anniversary of the Queen’s accession to the throne. The excellent Minster choir sang Handel’s Zadok the Priest as the anthem and the service was a fine quality setting by Gibbons. One of the psalms was Psalm 121, mentioned above!

Thursday, my cousin Wendy and my aunt Ruth were the people to visit, this time in Darlington, hardly more than half an hour’s journey from York by train. I could see the Sutton Bank part of the North York Moors to the east --- the stomping ground of my youth! --- and I think I caught a glimpse of Roseberry Topping. Wendy met me at Darlington Station and immediately said that I looked just like my mum. It was good to spend time with her after such a long gap. She took me out to lunch at an old pub at Hurworth Moor, called The Tawny Owl, which entailed a short drive through the local country, none of it familiar to me, although I must have been driven along these roads as a child, since all my mother’s relatives lived in this part of England. My lunch was an excellent vegetarian (butter squash) pie. We spent a while at Wendy’s house too where she showed me fascinating photos of my Victorian ancestors and some paintings by our grandfather that I don’t remember seeing before, and in the afternoon we saw Ruth in her house too, who couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw me. I look much older, apparently. (Well, it has been almost 17 years.) On her mantelpiece, she had a photo of George playing the cello.

That week I also paid two visits to York’s Art Gallery, described in a separate blogpost.
Our final day in Britain was mostly spent travelling to Heathrow where we stayed at the Ibis Styles to be sure of a quick getaway the following morning, not a bad hotel for the price, efficient, comfortable, and easy to access by bus, with quiet rooms, although the noisy background music at breakfast was off-putting in the extreme. We spent Friday evening with Emma, Peter and the boys at a Spanish restaurant near their house at Hampton Hill, whence the 285 bus took us straight back to the Ibis, taking half the time it did on the outbound journey during the rush hour.

It’s worth recording that our longer than usual flight from Heathrow to Ottawa took a northerly route over the southern tip of Greenland, to avoid over-strong headwinds, which gave us the chance to see the pure white scenery of that country from high above: the glaciers, sheer mountainsides and fjords dotted with icebergs. No sign of human interference at all, down there. It was worth seeing.

Elva and Laurie, like the faithful friends they are, met us at Ottawa airport and drove us home.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

A family reunion

Chris and I are sitting in the 14:20 train from Ottawa to Dorval, en route to England again. Through the windows of the train the views are extraordinary, seemingly endless sheets of shining ice on top of the snowy fields after the latest snow-thaw-rain-freeze cycle in this part of the world. Only a few dried grasses poke through, lit pale yellow by the bright sun today. The ice, reflecting the sky, has a blueish sheen.

Our son, meanwhile, has no clear view from his window. He is on Qantas Flight 1, presently over the southeastern coast of India, making rapid progress towards Dubai in the middle of the night. In Dubai he'll transfer to the second leg of his flight which will bring him down into Heathrow early tomorrow morning. We are going to catch the Montreal to Heathrow Air Canada Flight this evening to land at approximately the same time, if all goes well. I've arranged for us to meet at the Caffè Nero in the Terminal 2 Arrivals hall. Let's hope the plan works. We're likely to be feeling pretty tired at that point.

Later in the day we're also going to meet our daughter and her family. I'll have to rack my brains to remember when we were last all together as a family. I did spend a moment with Emma and George in the spring of 2010 when George and I got stuck in Europe because of Eyjafjallajökull erupting, but on that occasion Chris was stuck in Canada, same reason.

At the weekend we are going to accompany George to Wales to visit his 98 year old grandmother. He last saw her more than four years ago when she still lived in her own home with had better eyesight, etc.; I'm afraid he may find her too much changed. Even so, I'm anticipating a happy reunion.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The coldest capital

Setting off to the shops on January 14th
For a while, this winter, Ottawa was designated the Coldest Capital In The World, beating the capitals of Mongolia, Greenland and "the stans" with its low temperatures. Then last week, for a short time, the thermometer showed +11℃! and most of the snow on our roof melted. That was odd, although a January Thaw is not unheard of; I remember a similar occurrence in 2008 while George and Jonathan were staying with us for Christmas and the New Year. Last weekend though, down we went again to a windchill of minus 30 or more, resulting in more frustration for Chris who hasn't flown his plane for ages, which makes him antsy (1838, American English). The thing is, you cannot fly if your wing-covers are stuck to the wings with ice from the freeze-thaw-flash-freeze cycle. You have to persuade a kind, tall friend (Chuck, in this case) to help remove them by force and bring them home in the car, so that you can drop them on the kitchen floor and let them melt, soften and dry out before driving back to the airport to slide them on again in a bitter wind, with your wife holding the ends up above the snow.

Having no choice but to put up with the weather, we wrap up well and carry on going for walks outside, or to the warm and humid gym for exercise, in all weathers. Yesterday we walked into town via the frozen Rideau Falls, as weird and wonderful, although not so vast, as are the famously frozen Niagara Falls, just now.

The two most attractive spots in town this month are the new seating area surrounded by tropical plants on Level 2 in the Rideau Centre, like one of those outdoor "parklets" (modern, wooden structures that sprang up around Ottawa a couple of years ago), and the Paper-Papier store in the Byward Market, which sells flowers as well as paper products, and which smells wonderful the moment you walk in. The Central Experimental Farm has a tropical greenhouse too, which is worth visiting in mid-winter; I haven't been there recently, but must do that soon.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

For the record

The months last year when I failed to publish blog posts were August and December. Those were the months when the most was happening, which meant that I hadn't the mental energy for writing. By degrees (à la recherche du temps perdu), I'd like to try to recover some of my memories by cheating, setting the date and time of each post to an appropriate moment in 2017.

In brief, August 2017 was when 11-year-old Toni Aschentrup from Beilefeld came to stay with us in Ottawa, on her own --- a happy visit! --- and December 2017 was a typical December, during which I allowed myself too much respite. We didn't even go to Sindelfingen, as in previous years. We made the most of staying at home.

Charismatic twins at a jazz concert

I had an email from the artistic director of the DOMS concert series advertising yesterday's jazz concert:
These guys are outstanding musicians, and charismatic and virtuostic performers besides. 
So I thought it would be an event worth attending, even though I'm not very familiar with jazz. It was. That outburst of praise had not been an exaggeration.

Many other people were lured in, packing the church. Elderly Ottawa citizens come out in all weathers; they are tough. The average age of the DOMS noon hour audience must be around 75 and the local care home reps were serving cookies and free coffee beforehand, as usual.

On stage were the identical twins Peter and Will Anderson from New York City who had "travelled all the way here for today's concert". Adam Moezinia, the guitarist and equally talented third member of the trio, lives in Ottawa. All three musicians are Julliard School alumni.

The title of the concert was Magic of Benny Goodman. The Anderson brothers have been doing something along these lines at NYC's Lincoln Centre, as well.

Goodman (1909-86), from humble beginnings in Chicago, was a classical musician as well as becoming rich and famous as a clarinetist in the jazz world. Influenced by the New Orleans style of jazz, Benny Goodman in the 1930s "defined the swing era," as one of the twins said. Nearly all the music we heard yesterday was from those days.

What we heard: Soft Winds, as a trio for clarinet, sax and guitar, followed by These Foolish Things, same combination. I have found a YouTube recording of them playing this one with a different guitarist:

"Now we're going to play fast!" said the "younger" twin (born 10 minutes after his brother and growing one inch taller, so he told us) and they launched into the swirls and syncopation of Seven Come Eleven. The Andersons teased Mr. Moezinia, informing the audience that "he started taking guitar lessons about two weeks ago" (obviously not true)! A duet for saxophone and guitar followed, improvising on Gershwin's Embraceable You, which features in the old movie, Girl Crazy. The saxophonist for that item was the "older" twin whom his brother introduced to us as "the more romantic one." During the next number, Back Home Again In Indiana, the guitarist tapped his instrument like a drum. Stardust, by someone with the extraordinary name of Hoagy Carmichael, was another slow piece, for which Will Anderson picked up a flute, his eyes closed for concentration as he played it. This man seemed equally at home with all three of the instruments he'd brought on stage, an incredibly skilled musician. Towards the end of Gordon Jenkins' Goodbye which he played on the clarinet, with the guitarist accompanying, he gave us a solo cadenza as impressive as anything I've heard in classical clarinet concertos.

The trio also played two numbers not listed on the program, a New Orleans favourite, I can't give you anything but love, with which they finished the concert, and the an item that had been specially created for the twins on their clarinets plus guitarist by the composer Kyle Athayde, an Appalachian Mountain Song which combined classical and folksy styles of music with the jazz.

Here's a recording of yesterday's trio performing at a similar concert in Arizona, a year and a half ago: