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.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Throw it overboard!

During the effort to spring clean our house, which involves making decisions about some of the stuff we've been keeping in it, I've come across some reading material that strikes a chord.

Three Men In A Boat (1889) by Jerome K. Jerome, is an old favourite that has us laughing out loud every time we open it (the pages of our copy are all falling apart, and now I see that it can be downloaded onto the Kindle for free, we'll do that), but some of its passages veer towards a more serious tone:
George said:
... 'We must not think of the things we could do with, but only of the things that we can't do without.'
   George comes out really quite sensible at times. You'd be surprised. I call that downright wisdom [...] with reference to our journey up the river of life generally. How many people, on that voyage, load up the boat till it is in danger of swamping with a store of foolish things which they think essential to the pleasure and comfort of the trip, but which are really only useless lumber.
   How they pile the poor little craft mast-high with fine clothes and big houses; with useless servants, and a host of swell friends that do not care twopence for them, and that they do not care three ha' pence for; with expensive entertainments that nobody enjoys, with formalities and fashions, with pretence and ostentation, and with –– oh, heaviest, maddest lumber of all! –– the dread of what will my neighbour think ...!
   It is lumber, man –– all lumber! Throw it overboard.
   ... Let your boat of life be light, packed with only what you need –– a homely home and simple pleasures, one or two friends, worth the name, someone to love and someone to love you, a cat, a dog and a pipe or two, enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little more than enough to drink; for thirst is a dangerous thing.
   You will find the boat easier to pull then, and it will not be so liable to upset, and it will not matter so much if it does upset; good, plain merchandise will stand water. You will have time to think as well as to work...
I came across a very similar idea last week in a short story I'd photocopied for our German conversation group to read, this one written about 100 years later than Jerome K. Jerome's:
   Das kleine Boot begann schon bald gefährlich to schwanken. "Wir sind zu schwer," rief der Mann, "wir müssen einiges ins Wasser werfen, damit wir nicht unter die Wellen gedrückt werden!" Und er begann sein Gepäck aus dem kleinen Boot zu werfen. Das Mädchen nestelte an den dicken Knoten, mit denen die Eltern das große Paket verschnürt hatten. Aber sie konnte sie nicht lösen...
   "Du mußt das Paket ins Wasser werfen!" ... Verzweifelt versuchte er, das Boot durch die Wellen zu rudern. Er wußte: mit dieser Last im Boot würden sie das Unwetter nicht überstehen. ..."Wirf alles raus oder wir werden untergehen!"
This modern "fairy story(Eine Insel im See, by Roland Kübler) is about a young couple on a boat in the wild sea. The girl has left her parents, to sail away with the young man, but before she leaves home the parents give her a parcel––ein großes Paket––of things they think she will need for her new life. When a storm blows up, the weight of the parcel threatens to capsize the boat, so the man tells her to get throw it away. She tries to undo the string that ties up her endowment, so as to jettison part of it, but it's knotted too tightly. Her fingers bleed with the hopeless attempt. In the end a wave knocks young people and parcel overboard. The girl cannot swim if she clings to it; the man frees her from it and it's gone. They land on a deserted island.
"Ich habe alles verloren! Alles! Nichts ist mir geblieben!" Sie schluchzte. "Wir hätten soviel brauchen können für unser neues Leben."
She bewails the loss of her parents' gift. The man does not answer, but lights a fire from driftwood and holds her in his arms. Then she begins to realise that her inheritance wasn't so indispensable after all.
...Und plötzlich begriff sie, daß sie mehr als nur ihr nacktes Leben gerettet hatte. Durch den Verlust all dessen, was ihr so nützlich und unentbehrlich erschienen war, hatte sie ein neues, ein eigenes Leben gewonnen...
There was some discussion, at our German morning, as to whether that story made a valid point or not!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

A Nowruz table

I learned something this week; it was the Iranian New Year. A much more appropriate time of year than ours, with the days lengthening and the sky brightening. Nowruz, or No-rooz, occurs at the Equinox, and is full of symbolism. It is a Zoroastrian festival.

If I hadn't noticed the table in Jack's apartment (Chris' singing teacher) and if I hadn't asked why it was so beautifully decorated, I'd never have found out. Jack lives at the home of an Iranian lady who for this occasion had cleaned the place from floor to ceiling, as is traditional. Another custom, apparently, is to buy new clothes to wear on New Year's Day. It's all about a fresh start.

The "Haft Seen" table was laid with a red, embroidered cloth, on which a remarkable collection of objects was assembled, among which were:
  • 3 tall white candles, lit
  • a bowl of apples
  • a bowl of oranges swimming in water
  • a dragon fruit in a glass jar
  • a pot of green grass, sprouting seeds
  • silver dishes containing home made sweets
  • a garlic head and a couple of coins on another dish
  • a bowl of coloured eggs
  • white hyacinths
  • white tulips in a tall vase
  • a carafe of water (or perhaps vinegar)
  • a blue lamp
  • a small cup of red spices
  • a mirror on a stand, resting on pile of Persian poetry books
The importance of these items is explained on this page.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Italian supper, and not a strand of spaghetti in sight!

Gianluca, our Italian friend, cooked for nine of us a casa con Nicola e Maha, yesterday evening, and it wasn't just a snack supper. We arrived at 6pm and left well after midnight, after six courses which I'll describe below. By 10pm, we hadn't reached the main course yet, and though I don't normally make a habit of eating so late, this meal was taken at such a leisurely pace that it was thoroughly digestible and Chris and I slept very well afterwards (after a brisk walk home at -20ºC under a starry sky... maybe that helped too).

Gianluca, with Maha's help, had been planning the menu and shopping for the ingredients all week. In the kitchen he was assisted by Dan and Nicola. It was such a noble production that I kept thinking of the film Babette's Feast!

We guests, Chris and I, Michael, Steve and Mary, were settled into the living room to snack on olives, walnuts and crackers, washed down with glasses of wine, while the preparations took place in the kitchen. The three cats and the turtle in its tank kept us company. Then we were summoned to the table for the four antipasti:

Bruschetta with strips of roasted peppers.
Quails' eggs garnished with truffles.
Prosciutto crudo with slices of pear.
Deep fried strips of zucchini rolled in flour.

After a decent interval we went on to the most filling (perhaps I ought to say sustaining) part of the meal, the risotto. I'm not certain of my Italian here but I think I ought to write risotti, because there were five different sorts, arranged on one plate, in balls:

A green risotto flavoured with asparagus.
A mushroom risotto, brown.
A pale yellow, saffron risotto.
A pink risotto flavoured with strawberries and onions, tasting quite sweet!
A white risotto with pink peppercorns.

Then came the main course, the veal in a white sauce containing tuna and anchovies, decorated with capers. This came with slices of potato garnished with parsley. In between courses, by the way, we talked about poetry and kitsch, but not at the same time. Steve and Mary had given Nicola a glow-in-the-dark Madonna after their visit to Spain, and to much merriment, she was brought out for a "show and tell." I was disappointed that she didn't walk across the table, though. We browsed through some of Nicola's books that lined three walls of the dining room and Mary wanted us to try making shadow puppets with our fingers, but none of us was up to it. We "found Waldo" in the children's book, from time to time.

A salad followed, a delicious combination of arugula leaves, fresh heart of artichoke petals, and cherry tomatoes in a balsamic dressing. I liked the texture of the artichokes––I thought they were sliced almonds.

We had two desserts! The first was a generous slice of tiramisu, cooked in a huge, rectangular baking pan and sprinkled all over with cinnamon. The final course, our second dessert, was a tall glass of asti spumanti with a dollop of lemon sorbet within.

Compliments to the master chef, and thanks to all the company for a super evening!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A children's champion

Wikipedia photo of Haitian school girls
Landon Pearson, whom I heard speak at the event mentioned in my previous blog post, is "only 82 years old." She is known in Canada as the Senator for Children, having served in the Senate from 1994 to 2005. Mrs. Pearson has 5 children, and twelve grandchildren. She is the daughter-in-law of Lester Pearson, the Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Her father, she said, was her "most significant driver"––she had a privileged upbringing, growing up unaware of other people's struggles. She comments that one's education can be narrow and is always culturally biassed. Today however, the outside world penetrates more readily, so adolescents now see different male and female stereotypes.

Married to Lester Pearson's son Geoffrey, a diplomat, she lived in India for a while and got involved in educating poor children of migrant workers in India,setting up crêches for them, for example on the construction site of the new Canadian High Commission in New Delhi.

As a delegate to the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, September 1995 she advocated the right to an education free from discrimination. She insists that education must be based on a child's rights. Primary education should be compulsory and higher education accessible to all. The challenge of implementing this is more cultural than economic, the problems compounded by natural disasters. But in Haiti there is more schooling now than there was before the earthquake. Speaking of girls, in certain parts of the world, such as Niger, too much child marriage is still taking place.

Our job now, she said, speaking to a room full of grandmothers, is to support our idealistic grandchildren.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Songs with messages

Since I qualify as an International Woman, I went to an International Women's Day event last week on the theme of educating girls and empowering women. The entertainment was musical, some parts of it more stirring than others. In the early 20th century there had been plenty of evangelism by women of G.B. Shaw's Major Barbara stamp, keeping their minds fixed on what they wanted with the aid of songs like Bread and Roses:

[...] As we go marching, marching, we bring the greater days,
The rising of the women means the rising of the race.
No more the drudge and idler, ten that toil where one reposes,
But a sharing of life's glories: Bread and roses, bread and roses.
The Bread and Roses processional was repeated last week by a group of older ladies from Kanata in red T-shirts, eight of them wielding guitars. In the glory days there was a point to this song, female workers having to put in 54 hours a week at the factories without fair pay. The need for protest is less obvious now, unless you happen to live in more challenging parts of the world than Canada.

Keep your eyes on the Prize, hold on! continued the ladies of Kanata (and the one who was their leader extemporised, "... and get in the groove!"). That one was a civil rights liberation song from the '50s and 60s. We were all a lot younger then, of course, as was Bob Dylan, whose Blowin' in the Wind we all joined in with next, the only song of the evening that I knew, a picture of the young Mr. Dylan for inspiration alongside the words on the big screen. It was in much too low a key for me.

One song was by an environmentalist who calls herself Earth Mama, purporting to heal the planet one song at a time; it didn't grab me at all.
I am standing on the shoulders of the ones who came before me [...]
And my shoulders will be there to hold the ones who follow me.
Do these platitudes ever do any good? Reverting to the 1960s we finished with Walt Disney's excruciating tune and lyrics It's A Small World––notre monde est tout petit (en français).

Then followed a change of atmosphere, the Cantiamo Girls' Choir of Ottawa coming forward in elegant long dresses. They began by performing "I dreamed of rain" by Jan Garrett, followed by a Hebrew part song and then the setting of Jack Layton's Letter to Young Canadians by James Wright that I'd heard sung at the City Hall last summer, accompanied by the Orkidstra. This is genuinely moving.


My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.
The last two items impressed me: the accompanist's own composition, an experimental setting of the Irish folksong Maid on the Shore and another inspirational number composed by Gwyneth Walker, called The Tree of Peace, with the almost obsessive refrain, "Listen to one another, listen to one another..." (such an important command), "...Then shall the shackles fall!" That's right, and good to have impregnated into the minds of young women at that impressionable age.

Here they are singing it.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Seen in Bristol

February 7th, 2013

St. Mark's (The Lord Mayor's) Chapel at the bottom of the hill on Park Street was full of interesting decorations, including fan vaulting in the ceiling. The misericord carvings on the choir stalls included the head of a Green Man and, what seemed to be the head of an African, not a man of Somerset origin anyhow. There were 16th century Spanish floor tiles in front of the altar and, in the Poyntz Chapel to the south side, German stained glass panels in the windows.

Poyntz or Poins means fist, like the French poing. Sir Robert Poyntz was a friend of Henry VIII.

One of the tombs had the stone carving of a family on it. The husband and wife (who died very young) were gazing at one another with clasped hands. The wife held a baby in her arms.

The Green Man misericord carving

Spanish tiles

Jesus and the Elders in the Temple

St. Anne and St. Mary teaching Jesus to read

Jonah and the Whale

I'd intended to make a very brief, in-and-out visit to this chapel, but by the time I left it, half an hour had gone by!

Other time-consuming distractions on Park Street are such places as a music shop full of ukulelis and tin flutes, the owner being a folk music specialist, and a bookshop selling £2 books, some of those very good value indeed, but on my way to the top of the hill I took a detour onto Brandon Hill, the steeply sloping park around the Cabot Tower, which is a 19th century lookout and landmark more than 30m high. The plaque says:
This tower was erected by public subscription in the 61st year of the reign of Queen Victoria to commemorate the fourth centenary of the discovery of the continent of North America, on the 24th of June 1497, by John Cabot. Who sailed from this port in the Bristol ship Matthew, with a Bristol crew, under letters patent granted by King Henry VII to that navigator and his sons Lewis, Sebastian and Sanctus
There are good views from there across the Avon valley and a large tree planted by King Edward VII in 1902.

In the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, next to the University entrance on Park Street, I found some French Impressionists, Ming vases, stuffed animals including some from Australia and the skeleton of a prehistoric elk, looking like a moose. A painting by Ravilious of a tennis game caught my eye as did one of Winifred Nicholson's children looking sad on the Isle of Wight after their father had left them. A box kite aircraft was suspended from the domed ceiling of the museum, once used as a prop in the film Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines (1965).

Inside the Bristol Museum

Monday, March 4, 2013

Spam comments

I have to reject a score of anonymous comments on my blogposts every day. My posts appear to be targeted at random. Interspersed with links to websites of the writers' choosing, for whatever reason (which I don't feel like investigating), most comments are utter gibberish, computer generated, most likely. Does Mr. or Ms. Anonymous search for key words in my blog? The latest nuisance, for example, purporting to be a comment on a post I published about clothes, says the following:
The dining area also converts to a further double by dropping the table, there is storage under the dining seats [...] prom dress uk [...] bgtbugml It is to God's Glory, through the redeeming love of Jesus Christ, that I dedicate this website. tizasziu [...]
Well that, for what it is worth, contains some curious juxtapositions, does it not? I left out the pesky weblinks.