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.

Monday, May 21, 2018

To Stockholm by a round-about route


I'm starting to write this at the boarding gate for Flight SA7979 to Stockholm, from London, Heathrow. This will be the first time either Chris or I will have set foot in Sweden, and we're full of curiosity. According to our itinerary we'll be there for 11 days, flying back via Copenhagen on May 30th. It wasn't possible to book our seats simultaneously so we shan't be sitting together on the plane. I am in a business class seat and Chris isn't, though he does have a window. It is a beautiful, high-pressure day, with the Royal Wedding taking place in Windsor; we have absolutely no desire to be among the crowds there, though we have been seeing snippets of the TV coverage in the Terminal 2 Departures hall.

I set off last Sunday evening, landing here the next morning and travelling on to Cardiff by train in order to spend Monday afternoon, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday morning with my mother at her care home. I'm afraid that, suffering from senile dementia, she doesn't remember my visit. On Wednesday I was with her for over 8 hours, an exhausting day, even though we were doing little more than sitting. I had to encourage Mum to eat her meals, something she is reluctant to do and finds difficult . At nearly 99 years of age she has lost so much: sight and hearing to a large extent, her sense of balance, ability to walk more than a few steps with assistance, her sense of taste, and all of her top teeth except for one, which wobbles. Most disturbing for the rest of us is her loss of weight from refusal to eat; she looks skeletal, although when the nurse measured her blood-pressure, pulse rate, blood oxygen level and body temperature, all was normal. We had a visit from my nieces and their children on Wednesday which was a happy distraction and I also met Rhiannon and Justin for a vegetarian lunch one day, at the Fino Lounge in Whitchurch.

Now in the air, over Sweden! We have just had an announcement from the Captain that the computers at Stockholm airport have failed and we are therefore diverting to Gothenburg where we'll be delayed for a good two hours, not good news. Never mind, it all adds to the interest of the journey. We flew over some Swedish port a little while back, after plenty of water in the northern seas. In English airspace, we followed the River Thames to its mouth before heading up the East Anglian coast. The weather is still good, with isolated anvil clouds in the distance. So far, the Swedish landscape looks very like Canada, with rocky islands in lakes surrounded by coniferous trees. I have been reading my guide book, learning some Swedish vocabulary. Like Romanian and Japanese, a lot of it looks fairly understandable and what isn't like English often resembles German. The Swedish (sverige) word for German is tyska.

Yesterday (18th May) I was awake very early, following Chris' transatlantic progress on the Flight Tracker. I caught a bus to the Heathrow Central bus station and met him in Terminal 2, just as we had met George, back in January, when he flew in from Australia. There followed a fairly lazy, sleepy day, catching the bus to Teddington, seeing the grandsons coming home from school with their dad that evening, their mum arriving later. We all went out for an Italian supper on the High Street, in a noisy restaurant, full of kids, followed by a walk in Bushy Park, where a game of cricket was being played. Chris and I had seen more cricket practice elsewhere in the park earlier, young boys being taught how to keep their elbows in and their bats straight. It is that time of year. Descending into Gothenburg now, so I'll resume this later.

We are fully fuelled, ready to go, but are waiting for permission to depart once the Stockholmers have sorted out their computer failure. "Hopefully it's good news ahead," says this phlegmatic Englishman, but for the time being we have to remain on board. We shall have priority for landing, once we get there. However, before this he said we'd be waiting "for at least two hours" so I suspect we shall need to be patient. I can update my blog for the duration. So far, only 5pm, British Time.

We landed in Stockholm, finally, at about 19:20 local time and took the Arlanda Express to the city. Chris' was following our flight on his tablet and took a screenshot of the diversion: see image above!

Our hotel, the Grand Central by Scandic, is only a three minute walk from the station and the lobby vaunts the words HELLO, GORGEOUS! right in front of you in pink neon lights. We were greeted by a blonde receptionist who fluttered her very long, artificial eyelashes at Chris as he checked in to our Superior Twin room on the 5th floor. This evening we ate a buffet supper at an inexpensive Chinese "restaurang" on Kungsgatan and then strolled further through the city, seeing some of the romantic waterways and bridges near the Rijksdag after sunset. It was still not completely dark, even at 22:30.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Earth Day, Wakefield

Earth Day had already started when the sun came up, so we were told at the start of the meeting that took place at the Wakefield Community Centre on Sunday 22nd of last month. I was at the event with Elva and Laurie, who live on the way there.

A facility known as Eco-Echo was sponsering this community event, the Wakefield-Lapêche people having a lot to say about eco-friendly values, eco-citizenship, and their relationship with Nature. Led by their councillors, the locals were going to plant a little forest of organic cherry trees. "You may all know where to plant a forest." Since there were well over 100 people present at the Earth Day event, that could make quite a difference. Eventually, the Initiative (see below) "will plant indigenous trees all over the place."

"If you'd like to donate a little grove," you may plant one in someone's memory. $20 gift cards were on sale as well, to raise funds for the project. The first planting was to take place on May 12th, and you were to bring gloves and a hat, and a spade, which would be sharpened for you on site. The Quebec government was supplying some seedlings for free.

"We'll start with a song!" suggested the organiser, and two men with guitars came forward, to give us "Sweet Mother Earth, Cool Daddy Sky / Don't ever say goodbye!" The other verse was much the same, ending "Don't desert us, please!" I think these gentlemen had a whole repertoire of such compositions, because a second song went: "Once there was a wilderness, / Once there were clear flowing streams. / Now there's tourist traps ...", the final message being: "Is it all worth striving for? --- In-dis-put-ab-ly!" Later, while queuing for lunch in the lobby, where incidentally there was an impressively large, hanging twig sculpture, we heard them again, performing the music of their youth: 60s songs by the Beatles.

We had a whole bunch of retired activists present, both on stage and in the audience.

"Lapêche is running workshops to teach us to think like trees!"

A female "eco-poet" was up next, reciting a poem about a tree standing "tall and ready for rescue", perhaps the same one as the pine tree depicted on canvas on a nearby easel, this very good painting entitled "Standing Tall"; it was by Anne Swiderski.
The painter came up and spoke confidently, in French as well as English, about how much she loves the native trees known as white pines. "Ils ne brisent pas. I think they're uplifting. They are a symbol of hope and expectation. Ils continuent d'etre debout, d'etre la. Facing what's to come with strength and integrity." Her tall husband symbolically stood alongside, holding her notes for her.

Another artist told us that "trees are part of the forest", which I'd have thought pretty obvious, but what she meant was that they are a community, like us. She was the one who introduced us to the Lapeche Global Forest Initiative, also promoted by a Dutch-Canadian arborist, who spoke of what a tree does for you, and of how the forest stands together, don't forget it.

The introduction to the main event of the morning finished with the recitation of a poem by Mary Oliver. This extract will give you an idea of it:
[...]What joy was it, that almost found me? What amiable peace? Then it was over, the wind roused up in the oak trees behind me, and I fell back, easily. Earth has a hundred thousand pure contraltos-- Even the distant night bird as it talks threat, as it talks love over the cold, black fields. Once, deep in the woods, I found the white skull of a bear and it was utterly silent, And once a river otter, in a steel trap, and it too was utterly silent. What can we do but keep on breathing in and out [...] 
The main event was the screening of a remarkable, two-hour film, Call of the Forest: The Forgotten Wisdom of Trees. In this documentary, Diana Bereford-Kroeger, an Irish botanist who lives in Ontario, leads us on a world tour that "explores the science, folklore and restoration challenges of the global forest." Trees, so she and others claim, are the key to reversing climate change. The documentary records the alarming diminution of the world's natural forests due to human activity and calls for immediate action. If each of us were to plant a tree a year, an indigenous tree, to combat climate change, then perhaps the damage could be reversed.

After the film, we lined up to buy a Local Lunch: either beef or vegan chili, all served in eco-friendly pottery bowls that were washed by volunteers, by hand, and in the afternoon Tree Climbing For Kids was on offer, but we didn't do that.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Different perspectives, different reconstructions

Troy remains an “enigma”. Nobody can be 100% sure that the ancient city existed at a spot some 30 km southwest of modern day Çanakkale (Turkey) or that the Trojan War ever took place, as described in Homer’s Iliad of the 8th century BC. However, having studied the site in question, experts these days are more than 90% convinced. The site has had UNESCO World Heritage status since 1998 and a new museum, adjacent to it, will open this summer, after 30 years of planning, exhibiting the last 30 years of finds at the excavation site. The museum building is in layers, like the site itself. Extensive digs are still on-going, uncovering history that dates back 7000 years.

Dagmar and I learned all this from Dr. Rüstem Aslan, who gave a Canadian Institute for Mediterranean Studies (our mutual friend Louise is the CIMS Ottawa Chapter’s competent President) lecture at the Centrepointe theatre in Ottawa last weekend, with slides and video-clips for illustration. He has worked at the site since 1988, originally as a student of the previous, German, Director, Professor Korfmann, and now as the current Director of Excavations. Most of his predecessors were German, the most famous being Heinrich Schliemann; then came Schliemann’s friend Dörpfeld, then the American, Blegen, then Prof. Korfmann, who was granted Turkish citizenship shortly before he died.

The Trojan horse displayed in downtown Çanakkale to attract the tourists is a 20th century imitation donated by the Americans; many Hollywood films have been made about the Trojans, such as the 2004 one, in which Brad Pitt plays Achilles. The newer-looking wooden horse that towers over visitors to the excavation site, is also a replica, of course. The horse represents the “brutal” victory (as Dr. Aslan put it) of the Greeks over the Trojans after a 10 year siege and there is no historical evidence for the dramatic Trojan horse story. It is feasible that the idea came from the wooden machines used to attack the walls of Troy at the end of the siege. The horse legend doesn’t appear in the Iliad, but rather in the Odyssey, created 2 years later, and in Virgil’s Aeneid. Aeneas, of course, is supposed to have founded Rome.

A stone artifact recently discovered, with carvings in the Hittite language, mentions a middle-eastern settlement that had two names; the Alaksandu Treaty of 1300 BC contains a mention of a similar legend to the one Homer told, horse and all. Homer was from Smyrna, or Izmir, as it is now named, so we ought to refer to him as an Ancient Turk, not an Ancient Greek.

Troy, or Ilium---the city with two names---lay on the Biga Peninsula in the Aegean. The exact whereabouts of Troy puzzled scholars for centuries. Mehmet II’s library at his Istanbul palace contained the first written copy of The Iliad. 17th century explorers from Europe pinpointed Troy’s location as Pınarbaşı, as witnessed by Lechevalier’s map of 1791, and that guess was believed valid for 200 years, although the identified site is at Hisarlik near Mt. Kazdağı, closer to the sea. But the region is an earthquake zone, and repeated quakes buried one ancient settlement after another. The archaeologists have discovered nine “complicated” layers of remnants, at this location, which they number in chronological order of existence: Troy 1, Troy 2, Troy 3, etc. In the late Bronze Age, around 1300 BC, Troy (i.e. “Troy 6”) is thought to have been the major city of Anatolia, with a population of some 6000 people. Metal seals unearthed in 1995 apparently confirm that the Hittite language was spoken in Troy. In 1118 BC something catastrophic occurred at this place, but no written evidence has been found to determine whether it was it an earthquake or the legendary climax of the Trojan War!

Subsequent cities here were also ruined, probably by major earthquakes, in 85 BC and 25 AD. “Troy 9” (i.e. Ilium, now belonging to Rome) had a population of 9000 and was visited both by Hadrian and by Alexander the Great, the Romans boasting that by having conquered the Greeks, they had avenged the Trojans.

Frau Schliemann wearing the treasure
In 1882, Schliemann found what was nicknamed “Priam’s Treasure” (Priam being the King of Troy in the legend) in a cache in the ruined stone walls. Schliemann’s wife Sophia was notoriously photographed wearing the golden headdress and necklace they had unearthed, but mistakes were made in dating the jewellery. They carried most of it back to Germany. After the 2nd World War the treasure (plunder, rather) was transferred to St. Petersburg and thence to Moscow, where some of it still remains. Today, in fact, 9 museums and 7 cities around the world today share the hoard. As long ago as 1874, the Ottomans protested at the sale and dispersal of these treasures, to no avail, although vain promises were made to return it, even then.

After the presentation the Turkish Embassy laid on a reception with plates of baclava and other treats. Three lucky raffle ticket holders went home with booklets about Troy and bottles of Turkish wine.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Songs in French

Verlaine said that the art of poetry was "de la musique avant toute chose"; at last Wednesday's lunch hour concert at Southminster Church in Ottawa, you might have put it the other way round, claiming that music was first and foremost poetry, French poetry at that, because the concert included Fauré's and Duparc's settings of poems by Verlaine and Baudelaire. There were also Cinq melodies populaires grecques, settings of Greek folk songs translated into French, by Ravel as well as three Don Quixote inspired songs by Paul Morand, also in French, also set by Ravel.

I enjoyed this concert! The singer was Denis Boudreault, currently Artistic Director of the Ottawa Recitalists Art Song Academy, and originally from Sept-Iles. Apparently he has been singing to the accompaniment of his pianist friend Frédéric Lacroix since 2001. Mr. Lacroix is very well known in Ottawa and has been mentioned several times before in this blog. I had come across some of the songs before, as well. As for the words of the songs, I'd discovered them during my student years in the 1960s and 70s.

Some lines in the Verlaine poems (Fêtes galantes) I remember underlining, in those days:
... Voix de notre desespoir,
Le rossignol chantera.  
Romances sans paroles ... 
... ta voix, étrange
Vision qui dérange
Et trouble l'horizon
De ma raison ...
Fauré successfully captures the wistfulness of the Fêtes galantes, incorporating melancholy arpeggios into the piano part. These pieces would fit well into an exhibition of impressionist art, as would the Duparc settings of Baudelaire and Lahor, with their mention of watery suns, ciels brouilles, sunset skies d'hyachinthe et d'or, soft moonlight, tinted seascapes, etc. The Lahor poem Extase was given a slowly rocking, lullaby accompaniment by Duparc. His lovely Chanson Triste I vaguely remember trying to sightread once. Its title Sad Song is because of the inclusion of
douleurs  ... triste coeur ... tête malade ... tes yeux pleins de tristesse 
in the poem, ending thus: I shall imbibe so many kisses and so much tenderness that perhaps I shall recover! But probably not, is the implication.

The concert was entitled L'invitation au voyage in honour of the Duparc song of the same name, the minor key setting of a very well known poem by Baudelaire. Here, the composer daringly has the singer singing the refrain
... La, tout n'est qu'ordre et beauté
on one note, and the following line
Luxe, calme et volupté.
is also sung on one note (a few tones lower). Here's a superb rendition of the song by Gérard Souzay:



Ravel's music made a good contrast with the rest, with its rustling, fast running or rhythmic accompaniments, the dance-like effects and the middle-eastern ornamentation of the singer's long notes in the first of the Greek songs (Le reveil de la mariee). The tenor had to sing in both high and low registers for these. Morand's "Drinking Song" in the second set was composed in a fast, Spanish style of music, with tumbling piano chords at the end ... Je bois a la joie!


Monday, April 2, 2018

Flying home from the Finger Lakes

Preparing to depart


KITH VOR seen on take-off
We had the same shuttle bus driver take us from the hotel to the airport this morning. FBO has a toy putting mat for golfers. Filed the EAPIS and CANPASS documents on line; you have to remember to open the international flight plan once airborne, too. Chris did his preflight checks outside the FBO's big hangar at Ithaca airport and we took off into a bright sky with small white clouds.

Some snow in fields near Ithaca
Snow still lingers in the fields near Ithaca; some more fell in the night. We climbed to 5500 ft and headed towards Syracuse over Skaneateles Lake, one of the Finger Lakes. The way we covered the route on the map seemed a lot quicker than on Saturday morning, and was, because this time a tail wind was helping us along. Watertown airport, beyond Syracuse, is a very obvious landmark. As we approached the border country over the St. Lawrence River conditions in the air became fairly turbulent with thermal lift and gusty winds, with lenticular cloud visible ahead, just north of Lake Ontario. We crossed the St. Lawrence, back into Canada again 5500 ft above the 1000 Islands international bridge, seeing the town of Alexandria Bay from both sides of the river as we did so. After this, visibility deteriorated as we flew through snow showers under the bases of thickening clouds. Even Ottawa International airport was hard to spot ahead of us, but Chris didn't seem in the least alarmed by this, nor by the bumpy ride.

Skaneateles Lake
View from the Canadian border

Near the clouds over Manotick, snow falling
Our descent into Rockcliffe was relatively smooth, so we had an easy landing.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

A morning on the campus

Footsore, having walked 8 or 9 km yesterday and 6 or 7 km this morning, I am resting in our hotel room to write this while Chris wanders off to search for some toothpaste to replace the tube he forgot to pack. He doesn't approve of the remains of mini toothpaste tubes that I brought along for myself.

Ithaca's known as College Town, and its campus up the hill is huge. Over breakfast at The Commons Kitchen we discussed going to the Easter Sunday Quaker Meeting at the Friends Meeting House on Third Street, but Chris said he'd prefer seeing the waterfalls, following the Cascadilla Gorge Trail up to the university, a walk we enjoyed on our last visit. The start of this trail is on Linn Street, not Aurora Street, but we soon re-oriented ourselves, only to find that the trail is closed at present, presumably considered as dangerous during the spring thaw as under ice and snow. I do recall slippery steps in May. Anyway, a large wrought iron gate was barring our way, very decorative, but disappointing. The first of the waterfalls looked tantalisingly gorgeous so I took a photo of it from the footbridge:

Cascadilla Creek, at the start of the Cascadilla Gorge trail

Fall Creek
I remembered another scenic river with waterfalls further on. This is Ithaca's larger river, Fall Creek, with the Ithaca Falls, the Forest Falls, the Rocky Falls, the Triphammer Falls, all below Beebe Lake. There's a series of bridges too, vertigo inducing road- and footbridges, each one with safety netting above or below to catch any desperate student who wants to kill himself by jumping off. This is not funny and our shuttle bus driver of yesterday was of the opinion that it is usually Asian students who make the suicide attempts, fearful of losing face when they have to confess an exam failure. Poor souls.
Beebe Lake and falls

Along this river the trail was open, with warnings about No Winter Maintenance, and we remembered the starting point at the bridge on Stewart Avenue, opposite Carl Sagan's (the famous cosmologist's) house which we also remembered from before. We stayed by the edge of the gorge till we'd seen three more bridges, the uppermost one officially still closed for winter, though we stepped onto it to take photos of the white water pouring over Beebe Dam, before continuing along Forest Home Drive past the various faculty buildings: arts, physical sciences, human ecology, plant science and so on.

Lewis Building and Herb Gardens, Cornell
We eventually arrived at a spot near Beebe Hall where we could look down at the Cornell Botanic Gardens Welcome Centre and herb garden, winter garden etc. which looked so attractive that we went down some steps to explore, despite having spent the rest of the morning walking uphill and knowing it would entail yet another climb afterwards. It being Easter Sunday, the Welcome Centre is not open to welcome anyone today, but Chris enjoyed sitting at an outdoor table out of the cold wind while I enjoyed discovering a few things already in bloom: a cornus tree with yellow blossoms (Cornelian cherry?), some hellebores, masses of snowdrops and yellow flowers as ground cover for which I couldn't find the ID tag (winter aconites, I believe). In the Flower Garden near the herbs (not yet showing signs of blooming) a young mum was hiding hard-boiled, decorated eggs for her little girl to find, the little girl cheating by peeping through her fingers sometimes. Having spent a while engrossed by all this, I then realised that we hadn't seen a fraction of Cornell's whole botanical collection which covers several miles of land. We shall simply have to come back at another time, maybe by car so that we'll have the energy to walk round all of it. This would be a great place to bring my botanist sister Faith one day.

A variety of Cornus in bloom, at the Cornell Botanical Gardens
From there we walked the length of Tower Road through the campus, then down to College Avenue and across the bridge at the top of the Cascadilla Gorge where we found an eatery that was open, doing a roaring trade in snacks and hot drinks, so I finally had a sit-down before we went back downtown, down the steep hill.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Another trip to Ithaca


Over eastern Ontario, near the St. Lawrence, looking north
We flew to Ithaca in New York State today; we came here in the spring of 2016 and have been thinking for some time that it would be worth coming back; it seems a good way to spend the Easter Weekend. We are in luck with the weather, although it wasn't good enough for us to set off yesterday. IFR flying isn't so much of a problem in summer but at this time of year it's best to keep out of the clouds because of the risk of picking up ice (as we started to do on our way back from Kingston recently). Let's hope there are no clouds to fly through on the way home. Today's flight was totally clear of cloud.

"Before take-off, a professional pilot is keen, anxious, but lest someone read his true feelings, he is elaborately casual." (E.K. Gann, 1944). This is Chris---every time!---pacing around in the clubhouse at the start of a flying trip.

Ogdensburg International Bridge from the southern shore
Up earlier than on usual Saturdays, we took off from Rockcliffe at 9:40, having filed an international flight plan to Ogdensburg, the closest airport where a customs and immigration service was available today. It only took us 47 minutes to get there from CYRO although we were not allowed to fly in a direct line, and had a headwind. The customs men from the Ogdensburg bridge arrived exactly on time, driving through the airport gateway in their car just as we were going through our post landing checks. These men were quick and efficient too: checked our passports and Chris' pilot licence, went round the plane pointing their Geiger counter at it in case we had radioactive bombs on board (I don't think we'd have had room for any on the back seat, what with the other luggage) and we were cleared into the USA. Three minutes all told.

Landing at KITH, jet holding short of Runway 14
We got out of the plane before our next leg, which was 1 hour 41 minutes from KOGS to KITH (Ogdensburg to Ithaca). The headwinds on take-off were quite gusty, and strong at altitude, so that we feared it would take longer, but less strong as we progressed south of Watertown and Syracuse, with Oneida Lake on our left and the pretty Finger Lakes in their ancient glacial valleys ahead of us. We had an "interesting" approach and landing at Ithaca due to gustier than anticipated winds. Chris handled this really well, as usual. The service at the "Taughannock Aviation" FBO was marvellous, with a very efficient and friendly young lady at the reception desk. She had booked our hotel room for us yesterday as soon as I called to enquire what the FBO could do for us, and when we landed and walked in she had the hotel shuttle bus driver already there, waiting to fetch us into town. Meanwhile, one of her colleagues was parking the plane for us and offering to carry our luggage across the apron in a golf cart.

We've experienced good service at other FBOs, but this was exceptional. The shuttle bus driver was impressed too, especially by the fact that she'd served him a free bagel and a coffee while he was waiting for us to arrive.

Lighthouses at the end of Lake Cayuga, Ithaca
By the time we'd checked in at the new Marriott, the hotel the girl had picked for us (we got a hotel discount from the FBO as well) I was famished, so we ducked into one of the nearby eateries, Simeon's Bistro, for a brunch. After our meal, sauntering towards a large 2nd hand bookshop called Autumn Leaves, I picked up a leaflet at the Information Centre, advertising the Cayuga Waterfront Trail. We didn't do this actual walk but a parallel one on the opposite shore of the Cayuga Inlet, as far as the point beyond the municipal Golf Course where we could see out into Lake Cayuga, where the two lighthouses are. Yachts were sailing on the lake, perhaps for the first time this year, on this warm and sunny afternoon. Other boaters (oarsmen and -women) were getting ready for action too. There are numerous young people in this town, mostly associated with Cornell University, probably, raring to go at whatever takes their fancy. The energy in the town is palpable. I wouldn't mind living here.

In spite of the blustery wind, people weren't wearing coats, and after the first half mile of our walk, nor was I.

Beyond the Farmers' Market, not in operation till the summer, the historic wharfs and the many boat places, we had the pathways mostly to ourselves, and walked out along the top of the wall to the lighthouse at the end of the promontory. Well, Chris calls it a promontory (I had to look up the spelling) but it is just a crumbling wall on a rocky point, really. I was a bit nervous of falling of it into the lapping (and certainly cold) water where Canada geese (with yellow plastic markers round their necks, for some reason) were swimming and the male ones fighting. Chris went ahead but before he reached the lighthouse a female goose, fiercely guarding "at least half a dozen" eggs in the nest she had built on this wall, hissed at him and flapped her wings, so we had to turn around. We warned other walkers coming our way not to approach her.

The walk back into town seemed long and I fell onto the hotel bed, once I reached it, for a short snooze before supper which we found at an excellent Indian restaurant close to the Ithaca Commons.