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.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

An afternoon flight, in pictures

Over Gatineau, after crossing the river from CYRO

Over the Gatineau River, Chelsea area

Over the Gatineau River at Wakefield

Heading back towards Ottawa and Gatineau

Climbing, after a touch-and-go at CYND

Base leg for CYRO, over the Ottawa River

Over the Étienne Cartier Parkway, Ottawa River in the background

Island on the Ottawa River

Pushing PTN back to her tie-down spot after refuelling

The fuelling station at CYRO

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

A day for staying indoors and writing

Emails, mostly. I suppose it's good to have plenty to do while freezing rain, hail, wet snow or rain falls from the heavy, dark grey, wet clouds today and while my husband's at work. Working through my list, I send my messages, they reply, and then I send a reply to that message, and so forth. Some of this correspondence may not be altogether necessary, but women like to chat.

I slithered along the sidewalks to the Byward Market to pick up the Music and Beyond festival pass I had bought in time to pay the Early Bird price, then fussed around in a shoe shop, buying some sturdy slip-ons to replace my slippers that are falling to pieces. At Bridgehead, I sat over my pot of tea for over an hour, using my laptop again.

I've been contacting people about our German conversation group get-togethers, about the outings on snow shoes that Diplomatic Hospitality is arranging for the next month or two ... perhaps three, if the snowfall so far this winter was anything to go by, about next week's meeting of the University Women Helping Afghan Women and about the contents of the next edition of Rockcliffe Flying Club's newsletter, Crosswinds.

The longest time I have spent on any one thing today was while drafting an obituary for a man who used to help me edit the newsletter, who took on the job of chief editor in my place a couple of years ago, and who is now greatly missed. He was younger than I am, i.e. far too young, and his death is therefore tragic, but I'm not the only one who thinks that the life he led was an inspiration. In 2010, he flew solo all the way to Whitehorse and back to visit his brother's family, following the Alaska highway for the last stretch of his outbound journey, with a total flight time of 26 hours. His plane was a Cessna 140 with a silver fuselage, a little tail-dragger. A year later he underwent what he called "Another Long Flight" when he was diagnosed with cancer. The surgery and treatment, which he faced with fortitude, did allow him to retrieve his pilot's licence eventually, and we published an article that described how he felt about that. It was movingly and succinctly written. He could do funny articles too: satirical stories under a pseudonym, some of which used to make me laugh out loud. Since his death I have discovered that he was also an accomplished singer and composer in the other part of his spare time. He loved the music of John Dowland, apparently, one of his favourite pieces being In darkness let me dwell.

Another thing I have just discovered to my surprise is that Sting, the jazz / pop / rock musician, has recorded this song:

Monday, January 2, 2017

New Year's walks

Yesterday, we walked the loop from the Gatineau Park visitors' centre at Chelsea with Elva and Laurie, meeting families out for some fresh air all the way, and eventually quenched our thirst with tea from the only drinks place open in Chelsea for New Year's Day, a fairly new outlet staffed by inexperienced youngsters, too busy to serve everyone wanting service, though they were doing their best. The building used to be a clothes boutique called Delilah, but it closed last year. We sat on the plastic Muskoka chairs on the verandah outside to sip our drinks. In our padded coats, it didn't seem too cold for this.

Elva on the walk at Wakefield
Today Elva, Chris and I rode in Carol's car to Wakefield for the sake of a walk up and down the hill, through the woods to the cemetery following the yellow trail markers and back into town via the mill, most of it a slippery walk, like stepping across sand dunes (we should have worn snowshoes), but the surroundings were lovely, with low rays of sunlight slanting through the pine trunks. Coffees afterwards this time with some carrot cake from the cosy, popular café, Le Hibou.

Carol on the snowy hill at Wakefield
We had a magical view on our way back to the car from Le Hibou, because fog had begun to radiate from the Gatineau River's patch of open water near the far bank making a white smudge that blurred its edges. Chris had been waiting for radiation fog on the Ottawa River to lift from the vicinity of Rockcliffe airport earlier today; he went flying this morning, once it did start to lift.

Tomorrow's weather isn't going to be so good: freezing rain is forecast to start at 4am, lasting all day.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

New post, New Year

The sky was still pink from the sunrise as I looked through the bedroom curtains on this first morning of 2017 and now it is blue. That makes for a good start. I am writing this instead of clearing up the last of the debris from yesterday evening's supper party at our house. We originally invited Elva, Laurie, Carol, Don and Chuck, plus Francine and Roger who couldn't come; then we included Nicola and Maha, which made nine of us around the table for Maha's lentil soup and my beef stew, and afterwards Kathryn and Eli joined us in time to watch the 20:17 fireworks show (i.e. at 8:17pm) from our neighbourhood park. Wrapped in thick coats with our mittens on and hoods up, we stood ankle deep in snow, with more snow falling, beside King Edward Avenue --- up the slope to the bridge --- for twenty minutes while the show got better and better. Although we couldn't actually see the outline of Parliament Hill from where we stood, everything that rose above the tops of the intervening buildings was visible. Ottawa really excelled itself this time, especially in the finale. Some of the highest fireworks were dimmed by the low cloud ceilings and the snowfall, but it was very atmospheric.

Shaking the snow off our eleven pairs of boots and eleven coats as we came back indoors for the rest of our meal (a medley of small desserts and chocolates, mandarin oranges, hot drinks and champagne) left every so many puddles on our tiles on the warm side of our front door. Chris made us work on his Predictions for 2017 quiz. Jill (now living in Victoria) had sent in the largest number of correct predictions for 2016, and our son-in-law's mother Gilly was runner-up, but they weren't here to receive the prize that Chris usually gift-wraps for the winner, so Carol, who came third, got one. My predictions had been the least realistic of all, so my name went onto the Roll of Dishonour to be displayed at next year's NYE party, if we have one.

Maha made us each come out with one word to describe 2016, but that made us think about world politics, which started to feel depressing (my one word was disappointing), so we changed the subject. In such good company one can't be downhearted for long. The company set off to dig their cars out of the snowdrifts shortly after 11pm so we toasted the New Year a little ahead of time. The timing of its arrival is fairly meaningless in a country with so many time zones and with our relatives abroad well into New Year's Day by the time we get around to celebrating. Our son George, for instance, was already picnicking with Sha and Eddie on a Sydney beach by the time we reached Zero Hour in Ontario.

Chuck later took some superb photos of the midnight fireworks in Ottawa, pointing his camera from his apartment windows towards Landsdowne Park. Chris and I were still up at midnight but didn't venture outside a second time. We saw the countdown on my laptop screen and heard the bangs from our house. Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

English lesson for a family of five

I rode on busses and trudged through the snow to the opposite end of the city today, to visit a Syrian family of new immigrants (refugees, earlier this year) that I am gradually getting to know. This is the third week in succession that I have gone to their newly rented house in Ottawa to teach the young mother a little English; I'm sharing this task with my friend Vija who visited her on the previous three weeks. The lady seems very young; I found out today that she is only 23 years old, although she already has three children. They are charming: three little girls with curly hair, winning smiles and an intelligent, lively look in their eyes. They are remarkably well behaved, considering the disruptive start they've had to their lives. I met the oldest one for the first time today whose English is already more fluent than her parents'. Being four years old, she goes to a Canadian (pre-)school. Her sisters are still too young. Their father usually attends an English class at the hour when Vija and I come along, but I have met him at the house on my last two visits and he joins in on the periphery of my lessons. He too is a very a courteous person.

This week I planned to teach the mother some verbs in the present continuous and had the opportunity to demonstrate that tense the minute I walked through the door, shaking the wet flakes from my outdoor clothing. It was her husband who had opened the door; she herself was on her knees in the living room, facing Mecca, literally deep in prayer. "I'm sorry I arrived too early," I said to her. "You are praying!" But she didn't seem to mind, and rose from her prayer mat to brush the snow off my bags for me. She and her husband were not only devoting themselves to Allah on this day; they were also fasting ("Not eat!" --- she drew a seal across her mouth and shook her head --- which I tried to correct to "we are not eat-ING. We are fasting," but I'm not sure they understood.) Anyhow, this fast did not prevent my being served a hospitable bowl of sugary rice pudding flavoured with rose water before I left. The baby had some too, from a different bowl. Last week her mother had served me vine leaves (ورق عنب, waraq eanab) stuffed with flavoured rice.

When I first came in, the baby was asleep in a rocking chair, so I took another opportunity to use the present continuous: "Look, she is sleeping." Her older sisters were by no means asleep and came over to see what I was going to do today and what I had in my bag. I had brought a colouring book for the middle daughter with animal pictures and a few repetitive words, so we looked at that in some detail before coming back to the verbs. Not much later, the baby woke up. "Look, she is waking up. She is sitting up. She is smiling!" The baby may not know many words in either language yet, but she seems to accept me and came to me for a cuddle at one point.

I had prepared a sheet of reference notes with only two Arabic words (that I'd found on Google Translate) among my English verb lists: عادة (eada, meaning usually / normally) for the infinitive verbs and الآن (alan, meaning now) for the present continuous verb pattern. I demonstrated "sit ... sit down ... stand ... stand up... walk ... jump ... listen" etc. with actions and gestures and then said told them that NOW "I am standing up ... sitting down ... walking ... speaking English" until they got the message. Then we repeated the words with refernce to a different worksheet, with pictures, saying "He is ... [danc]ing  ... [runn]ing ... read[ing]" and so on. I'm pretty certain that the father had already been through this sort of childish exercise at his official English class before, so he (listening) could follow my gist easily and help his wife with this exercise, discussing it with her in a jumble of Arabic. Clearly, the oldest little girl was understanding my examples too, because she ran to fetch me an picture book with captions, to show me a picture of someone "...playING with a toy." "Look!" she said, and was delighted when I praised her for this. This child --- who has even learned some French at school --- can already combine verbs and nouns in English without prompting and at one point during the conversation lesson her mother managed to do this herself, suddenly coming out with "I am sitting on a chair!" which thoroughly pleased me, because I had been trying to teach her adverbial phrases of place with the relevant prepositions last week.

These English classes are going to be a slow uphill struggle for my family of students, but highly rewarding for me. I'm so glad to have become involved with them.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Timisoara to Sindelfingen

(I still need to add photos to this post.)
Written on Wednesday, 30th November

It feels like ages since we were still in Timisoara, but it was only two days ago. Monday. Chris and Berndt met for breakfast at the hotel before walking to the meeting together. I gather it was a gruelling, but productive one. Chris had to answer some searching technical questions which left Berndt to answer the commercial ones. Meanwhile I walked around the city again, making the most of the brighter weather that day, to take photos that would compliment the ones I took under cloudy skies. I bought a few hand painted souvenirs and postcards (lining up in the post office for stamps for them) and stepped inside the cathedral again, where a colourfully robed priest was sitting in a corner with a young woman, hearing her confession. There were no private confessionals there. Lesser priests and nuns were robed in black. I walked by the river again and had lunch, some ravioli, at a place called Riviere, by the bridge over the Bega. Large Romanian and European flags were hanging from an imposing white building called the Primaria Timisoara (city hall, I guess) and more Romanian flags were being put up around the Christmas Market huts that will soon open for business in the Piata Victoriei outside our hotel. In the sky towering cumulus clouds were building.

Hurrying in from a sudden hailstorm, the men joined me in the hotel lobby where I was waiting with our luggage. The subsequent journey was quite stressful. The taxi we ordered to Timisoara airport picked up someone else instead, outside the hotel, so we had to wait for another one. At the airport were long, slow queues for the bag drop and security checks (I got chatting to some friendly girls from Cheng Du --- in Chinese). Finally we made it to the departure lounge, but hardly any seats were left, because three flight loads of people were waiting to board, some to London, Stanstead, on a Ryan Air flight, others to Madrid on Wizz Air and our lot. The Lufthansa Cityline flight to München was late leaving, so we only just caught our connecting flight, fortunately also delayed, entailing interminable bus rides round München airport, a hasty trot down the long corridors and nothing to eat or drink. But at least these pilots were not on strike and I'm glad to say our luggage also made it to Stuttgart. We landed half an hour late, with not just one but two of the ladies WCs labelled defekt, therefore unusable, and didn't have our supper till nearly 10pm (at the Fässle in Sindelfingen, me in a state of near-collapse from low blood-sugar), after checking into the Torgauer Hof on Hirsauen Straße, when our taxi driver eventually found it. We have a sort of suite here, with kitchen; it's a nice, a quiet little hotel with easy Wifi access, breakfasts inklusiv and complimentary bottles of carbonated mineral water in our room every evening.

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday

I believe this is now the fourth time we have stayed in Sindelfingen; we feel at home here and I am unwinding gently. I have walked through old haunts and new haunts, discovering the park beyond the Klostersee (with its present crust of ice) on Tuesday, and the Mineraltherme (thermal spa with two outdoor and three indoor pools) across the railway at Böblingen today, Thursday. It was a dreamlike experience, swimming slowly into the outdoor pool under the blue sky. The air was so cold and the water so warm, just about blood-warm (36 degrees), that it created a blanket of radiation fog through which distant heads of the other swimmers appeared and disappeared, like a scene from some experimental, surrealist film. In the middle of the pool geysers likewise appeared and disappeared, generating bubbles, and round the edges bathers could sit or stand under waterfalls that massaged shoulders and spine or against warm jets. At the far edge of the pool they had a cool shower of sprinkled water too. The water in every pool was salty, containing a cocktail of healthy minerals, so that swimming under the surface didn't sting one's eyes at all. Indoors were two Entspannungsbecken, relaxation pools, where I could either float on my back and contemplate the hanging decorations or lie back in dimmed blue lighting, with a huge wall of red poppy pictures behind me. In the central indoor pool I joined in with some water exercises, one of the staff calling out instructions for swishing arms and legs around. He had a large class of fairly elderly participants there. When I got tired of being told what to do, I swung my legs over the edge and climbed out. I thought I'd check out the sauna area downstairs but finding it full of naked men (and some naked women) I thought better of that and beat a retreat back to the outdoor pool, far more entspannend. I lay in the water in my swimsuit and gazed at the sky and the trees.

Lazing around in the water had made me surprisingly hungry; I took advantage of the on-site restaurant which served me a delicious lunch with mineral water. Something I hadn't ordered from the menu was a little glass of warm vegetable soup blended with herbs, as a starter, an idea I think I'll copy at home. My main course was herbed rice and fish in a tasty sauce (von der Fischpfanne).

The weather has been crisp and fine. Yesterday (Wednesday) I took a series of local trains to Tübingen and back, where I walked under the row of giant beech trees on the Neckarinsel between the Neckar and its canal. I have been to Tübingen before and knew where the poet Friedrich Hölderlin had lived: in the yellow tower by the river; I went inside and looked around the museum there, then stroked the white cat who came out of the little garden to sit on his doorstep. I peered out of his windows and imagined the swans he saw dipping their heads in the water, as in his famous poem, Hälfte des Lebens. I saw a swan in Tübingen, myself, on the Anlagensee near the station. Up the hill in the old town were crowds of people because this was the day the Schoko-, or Choco-Markt was taking place, chocolate stalls filling the market square and neighbouring streets. I bought a cheese crepe for my lunch and sat on a bench overlooking the old roofs.

The trains trundled me back to Sindelfingen through the half-timbered towns and past dormant vineyards on the hillsides, sloping up to the Black Forest.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Timișoara on a wet Sunday

Such an interesting city. It was raining or drizzling all day long, on Sunday; we continued our explorations even so. First we walked up the street to Chris’ place of work, to see how far it was (less than 500m away) and this direction also took us to the Parcul Botanic that I’d wanted to see, although it seemed rather dreary in the rainy off season. The ponds were drained, seats stacked away and the fountains turned off. In all these city parks are dilapidated corners where the walls, covered in graffiti, have crumbled away. It seems that few repairs have been done since the 19th century. The inner city is like this too.

Next, wading through muddy potholes on the pavement, we found our way to the railway station called Timișoara Nord that Chris was keen to see. I was keen to see the Ladies WC, for which I had to pay 1 Leu, and it didn’t have a seat, but I was handed a more than adequate supply of toilet paper by the chap in the gatehouse. Reminiscent of China. When we looked at the departures board in the main waiting area --- with a food outlet but no seats! --- we realised that we recognised very few of the names of the destinations on display: Iasi, Budapesta, Jimbolia, Vrsac, Sannvicolau Mare, București Nord, Arad, Lovrin, Resita Nord, etc. Actually we had heard of Arad, because we had noticed it on the map; had the Lufthansa pilots continued to let us down by striking, it might have been our first waypoint on an equally long journey by car, or we might have had to change trains there on a long, long train journey to Vienna … and at other stops, in Hungary, with a several hour wait in the middle of the night. To judge by Timișoara Nord, the experience might not have been very pleasant. We did see a train with sleeper coaches parked at the station, the sort of train I used to take through France and Germany in the 1960s.

We made our way back to the inner city, lunching at an Italian spot, not the same place as where we eventually had supper, the Locanda del Corso --- a wonderful restaurant on Lazar Gheorghe, with an open flame pizza oven, steaks (beef, salmon) done to perfection and liqueurs on the house. Between the meals we visited the Muzeul de Arta on the Piata Libertatii, housed within the Baroque Palace. It was marvellous, but I wasn’t allowed to take photographs. All the art was, of course, new to us; fortunately, English translations were provided for the most part. Chris kept returning to a painting that had caught his eye in the lower galleries, entitled Taranca din Vlaici (Peasant Woman from Vlaici), by an artist called Stefan Dimitrescu who died in 1933.

Upstairs they were showing two special exhibitions, a retrospective of the art of Corneliu Baba (1906-97) on one side of the building, and of his contemporary Julius Podlipny (1898-1991) on the other. Both were great artists. I feel annoyed that I have only just come across their work. Both were obviously oppressed by the post war communist régime in Romania and their paintings / pastels / drawings convey suffering. I was so impressed by the Baba paintings that I went to look at them three times. I was not surprised to read that he claimed to have been influenced by both Rembrandt and Goya. The portraits and self portraits (the faces) are intense, often with open mouths as if incredulously appalled at what they have seen. In 1985, elderly Baba did a series of paintings called The Fright which seems to have referred to an earthquake, though it probably has political overtones as well. He did a Pieta, with the people standing around the corpse of Jesus almost backing away in horror. I also noted his portraits of Borges and the famous Romanian composer / conductor Ionescu. There was a painting of the poet Tudor Arghezi and his wife (1961) and of the actress Lucia Sturdza, a force to be reckoned with, by the look of her. The artist obviously looked up to her. I was touched by two paintings of his wife, one executed in 1953 in her middle age when she was already showing signs of strain, and another in the following room of her as an old lady (in 1982). Chris thought she can’t have been pleased with that picture, but I said, “It is truthful.” Sad or not, it was tenderly done. Baba kept coming back to his own face too, the first of these self portraits done when he was only 13, then some rather jokey, youthful ones of the 1930s, before progressing to the depiction of himself as a mature man with a thin, serious, rather crazed face, and long hair. I was struck with one he did of the archetypal Worker, in 1961, a face covered in coal dust, but a very handsome and muscular man, obviously done to please the communists. Then there was an astonishing oil painting of a cockfight, a violent but beautiful painting in swirls of colour.

I didn’t take many notes about Mr. Podlipny because I was getting exhausted, as I do in galleries, but I made a note of Un Suferind Autoportret done in 1978, which had the same intensity as the Babas, and a picture of a lonely beggar playing an accordion in the dark: Musikat batran, that reminded us of the Leiermann from Schubert’s Winterreise. In fact we have seen a few Leiermänner on this trip, both in München and in Timișoara.

I am also haunted by an old lady and a dog that we saw on Friday. The golden haired dog was curled up on a wall by the river, all alone, too lethargic to do more than raise its head and look at us as we went by. Was it abandoned, lost, dying of thirst, dying of some illness? We could do nothing for it. The feeble looking old lady was standing alone in the shadows by a building in the Victory Square, perhaps also sick or lost, or demented, ignored by all passers-by, holding out her hands and saying Ajutor! Ajutor! which I very well understood (it means “Help!”), but I’m ashamed to say we didn’t do anything for her, either.