Sunday, 28 December 2014

DISMANTLING CHRISTMAS MEMORIES

Warning: the following blog is 100% self indulgent. Read at your own risk.

One of my idiosyncrasies, of which I am so frequently reminded I have many, is my overwhelming need to enter the new year with our home returned to its normal state, all Christmas decorations down.

But the twelve days of Christmas are not over until January 5th, you argue.  I know! I know!  Perhaps it is my desire to enter the new year with a blank slate.  More likely, it is my feeling that with Boxing Day passed, the Christmas season for me is over.  Christopher and Kristen have journeyed to London. Morgan and Zachary, Matt and Michelle are busy with Christmas break activities. Christmas music no longer plays on our air waves. We have no more entertaining planned.  Why not move on?

Dismantling our Christmas decorations, though, has never once led to the blues.  As I return everything to bins to be stored in our garage loft, I reminisce about the great memories created this year and warm myself with memories of years passed.

HGTV will never cover this Lockett family Christmas tree. Such a vision is actually too amusing for words. No fancy ribbons, no matching designer decorations, no colour scheme, our natural, needle-dropping spruce is bedecked in a mishmash of decorations from years past and my more recent Pier 1 acquisitions.  Ironically, as I pack our ornaments away, it is not the flashy Pier 1 glass balls that garner my attention. Rather it is the "mishmash" that floods me with nostalgia. Children, grandchildren, decorations handed down from our parents, gifts from family and friends, all warm my thoughts.


Even the long-empty, beaten-up bottle of Henkell Trocken which Jim has used for over twenty years to water our tree makes me smile. This would have originally contained the bubbly, supplied by Richard and Meredith, for one of our annual Christmas tree cutting brunches.


Children and Christmas; it doesn't get better.  From December 1st on, anticipation ran at a fever pitch. Christopher and Matthew would count down the days using an adorable advent calendar gifted to us by friends, Jane and Brian. With our grown children having flown the coop, I frankly admit that Jim and I now move the counter forward every morning. Such sentiment! Rolling up this Santa calendar for storage, the increased excitement as the counter moved closer to the 25th remains palpable.


No one loved Christmas more than my Mother.  Holiday baking - over fifteen different varieties of cookies!  House decorations - over the top!  Christmas candles, in particular, remind me of my Mom.  She made her own and our childhood home glittered and flickered with her artistic creations throughout the holiday season. Unlike Mom, I am terrified of hot wax. Another idiosyncrasy? Thus no reprise of her candle making expertise will be forthcoming.  When my Mother passed away, in her honour, I purchased an array of electric candles for our mantle.  I cannot open them when decorating or store them away until the following year without fondly remembering my Mom at Christmas. Her warm Christmas glow lives on. The same set of dining room candle holders have graced our table for so many years that I have lost count.  How many boisterous, joyous Christmas dinners have they witnessed? I wonder.


Christmas boughs decorated the banisters in our Thornhill home.  I clearly remember purchasing them at Cullen Country Barns in Markham in 1987.  ( Remember Cullen Country Barns now torn down and replaced by the gigantic Pacific Mall?  Ugh! )  To this day, I have found no boughs as thick and realistic as these.  Denim poinsettias reflecting our country kitchen have now replaced the more formal velvet bows of Shady Lane, but these boughs, although now somewhat ragged and showing their age, are part of the fabric of our Christmases. Memories are made of this.


A half day will be required to dismantle our miniature Dicken's Village.  What began as a gift ( The Counting House ) from my sister and her husband, and ...


... from my brother ( The Horse and Carriage ), has ...


... grown over the years, thanks to the largess of Matthew and Michelle, to this:


I am sure that friends question our sanity when thinking about the time spent erecting and then dismantling our little village. The wonder on Morgan and Zachary's faces makes it well worth the effort.  To say that Jim and I enjoy our mini megalopolis all aglow in the evening and reflecting Jim's favourite novel, A Christmas Carol, is to make an understatement.

Today I dismantled our tree. I have to wonder if, after Durham has finished with it, it will be somewhere in the over fifteen bags of mulch I will disperse on our gardens this spring. I like to think so.  Tomorrow, Jim and I will lovingly store away our Dicken's village in boxes indicating the date on which we were gifted with each piece.  By the time we head out for New Year's Eve dinner, all traces of Christmas 2014 will be carefully stored away.  I sincerely hope that your Christmas season, like ours, was full of memories that will last a long time.



Friday, 26 December 2014

BOXING DAY BLUES

My Father was of the belief that children should be surrounded with unconditional love, encouraged to pursue a good education and then allowed to fly free on their own abilities.  Jim and I have added to Dad's advice; we have cut the proverbial apron strings and have attempted to allow Christopher and Matthew an adulthood without any nitpicking parental interference, all in the hope that our boys and their spouses will not begrudge our presence but willingly choose to have us part of their lives. With my Type "A", control-freak personality, you have got to know that this is an ongoing exercise in agonizing self control for me.

It must be working though, because, blessedly, Christopher actually enjoys flying in from St. John's to spend Christmastime with us. So why the Boxing Day Blues? Well, tomorrow our elder son leaves for London, Ontario and time with Kristen's family.  December 30th will see them winging their way back to Newfoundland.

I know! I know! Friends with children in the U.S., western Canada, Australia, and even the armed forces overseas are rolling their eyes. I can hear their resounding, Suck it up, Princess. Okay, okay, but for today, I am indulging myself in the blues and wallowing in my sadness.



Christopher never fails to inspire me. Well read? Of course, what would you expect from English Professor? My stack of books to read grows exponentially when he is home.  But it is Christopher's grasp of history and the current state of our world that reminds me to "care", to never slip into complacency and to endeavour to remain informed.  I will miss early morning conversations over coffee and pre-dinner discussions, wine glass in hand. Precious times ending today.

I will miss Christopher's presence in our kitchen. An accomplished cook, his quirky little tidbits of advice on using an herb or spice, previously not considered, never fail to add sparkle to our meals. Perhaps, you should be writing a cookbook during your sebatical, Hon!

I will miss watching my elder son simply enjoying a good book, working at his computer or smiling at the antics of his much loved neice and nephew, Morgan and Zachary.

Oh, get over yourself, you huff. There is FaceTime and Skype and email and phones. Yup! All true! But I will miss actually being able to touch Christopher's shoulder or hand. Most of all, I will miss being crushed in one of his giant bear hugs. These cannot be replaced by modern technology.

And so, this morning on Boxing Day, I make no apologies for feeling blue. Now if you will excuse me, I am on my way to a Pity Party For One.








Sunday, 14 December 2014

IT'S CHRISTMASTIME IN THE CITY

City sidewalks, busy sidewalks,
Dressed in holiday style.
In the air
There's a feeling of Christmas.
....Silver Bells

Being an avowed rural town resident does not prevent me from appreciating how downtown life could be much more fulfilling and exciting for many of our friends. Never is this understanding clearer than at Christmastime. Perhaps because I was born and raised in Toronto and subsequently spent my early married years here, Christmastime in T.O. now stirs in me a font of fond memories. To walk the evening streets is to stroll down memory lane.

A concert, a dinner with dear friends and an overnight stay in town reminded me this past Saturday of how truly beautiful Toronto is when dressed up for Christmas, her colourful light displays dispelling the gloom of our long, dark December days.

At its heart, is city hall's giant Christmas tree, standing majestically in Nathan Phillip's Square 



overseeing representatives of every age group participate in a truly Canadian activity  - skating on an outdoor rink. I smile. How many times, I reminisce, Did Jim and I freeze our "you know what's" off whizzing around this beloved ice surface on New Year's Eve?"


Walk further and twinkling lights greet you at every turn.


Strings of street lights
Even stop lights
Blink a bright red and green.


Corporate headquarters are alive with Christmas spirit, displaying everything from giant glowing snowflakes to lavishly decorated trees. Retailers become their most inventive with show stopping window displays.  A giant metallic reindeer holds court in the Eaton Centre dwarfing all shoppers in its midst.


But nothing, absolutely nothing, surpasses the Bay's Santa-themed windows in stirring within me nostalgia for Christmases past. Joining the crowds of adults and children, oo-ing and ah-ing at the heartwarming displays, I squeezed Jim's hand. For a moment I was that young girl, tightly holding my Mother's hand, awe-struck by the magical scenes unfolding before me. Memories of traditional Christmas shopping trips with my parents, dinner at the Arcadian Court and a highly anticipated visit to these windows flooded my emotions. A special thank you to The Bay for picking up the torch from the now defunct Eatons and Simpsons stores. 


My favourite? I was mesmerized, even as an adult, by the window depicting Santa's Workshop. A massive illuminated clock counting down to Christmas Eve was the backdrop to Santa on a balcony holding a long unfurled scroll - "The List" - with a myriad of adorable elves busy below. Had I not felt the need to move aside for young children eager to catch a view of where Santa works, I could have stood there all night.

See the kids bunch.
This is Santa's big scene.


Cozy under the hotel duvet, curtains open, I fell asleep to a view of City Hall bathed in blue light and fronted by its sparkling Christmas tree. And visions of sugar plums danced in my head. Yup! It's Christmastime in the City.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

RANDOM ACTS OF KINDNESS

Even after all this time, the sun never says to the earth, "You owe me!"  Look what happens with a love like that, it lights up the whole sky.  Hafez

I hate to admit it, but we are almost a month from Christmas and I, a certified, self-proclaimed Christmas fanatic, am battling the dreaded Scrooge/Grinch syndrome.

On November 3rd., I visited one of my favourite little Aurora shops, Not Just Cards, in search of some autumn-themed h'or d'oeuvres serviettes. What was I thinking?  Of course, with Christmas 'only' (?) two months away, not an "autumn anything" was to be found; the store had been transformed into a Christmas fantasy with piped in Christmas music.  November 3rd.?  Heck, I was barely over Hallowe'en!

Speaking of Christmas music, effective November 15th. my chosen radio station, CHFI, moved to an "all Christmas Music" format. Please don't get me wrong. I absolutely love Christmas music as is evidenced by our huge library of Christmas CD's.  My fondest memories of Christmas as a child include the magical Candlelight Christmas Carol service at our family church.  But isn't 'nothing but Christmas music' for six straight weeks just a bit of overkill?  So starved am I now for the occasional regular music that I would happily listen to polka. OMG!


What finally dragged me into my SG Syndrome, were scenes from Black Friday, a phenomenon which has now sadly infected Canada.  Talk about a decadent display of consumerism!


Where, I desperately asked myself, is the true spirit of Christmas in all of this and how do I rekindle mine? Miraculously then my light bulb went on. Last year, Melissa challenged her Facebook friends to perform a random act of kindness.  Taking Melissa up on her challenge proved to be one of my most enjoyable endeavours in the Christmas 2013 season. And then there is beautiful Jackie, who after recently watching a homeless lady in a local Newmarket laundromat find warmth and access to a TV for news, gifted her with $60.  What a heart warming random act of kindness! ...... the Grinch's heart grew three sizes that day. Just the antidote I need!



With inspiration from Melissa and Jackie, I have promised myself that for each of the twenty-five days preceding Christmas, I will perform a daily random act of kindness.  It will be MY way to celebrate God's gift which was definitely NOT a fifty inch flat screen TV.   Hey, don't get me wrong; I am not ready for sainthood. My random acts will not be selfless gestures. In return, I hope to find some positive energy and rekindle my spirit of Christmas.

Although I am sure I will spend money, not all of my random acts need be expensive.  A genuine compliment, assisting an elderly person with their grocery bags, allowing traffic to merge are all possibilities.  As the ancient Arab proverb says, If you have much, give of your wealth; if you have little, give of your heart. I feel better already. And who knows, you may actually catch me humming Christmas songs as I act!

Care to join my challenge? Let me know!








Friday, 14 November 2014

IT'S COMING.....

I awake to a vision of heavy gray clouds compressing the vibrancy of my morning sunrise into a thin ribbon of peachy soft light. Chilly winds born in the north whip through denuded, forelorn tree limbs whose music is nolonger the swish of autumn leaves, but the clickedy-clack of bare branches tapping out their pre-winter beat.  


Oh, how welcome this fresh cup of coffee feels between my clasped hands. Warmth in the dark morning chill! Gone are the green and golden days of autumn. I open the front room curtains to November's bleak, monochromatic world.  Is this morning's dusting of snow a warning? I wonder.  

Depressing, is how most of my friends describe November.  Too cold and wet, complain others. To bewildered glances, Jim always proclaims his love for the month. Bizarre, is the only word I can assign to this unwavering love of his.

November, I have grown to believe, is Mother Nature's effort at transitioning we mere mortals, how she prepares us for the dark, frigid temperatures and snowy weather of winter. To move directly from glorious autumn to the depths of winter may be too shocking for our fragile systems.  I like to imagine that she sucks the colours out of our world to make the sparkling whites of her snow and ice more welcome sights. At least they cover the "blah".


Midway through November, I sigh. Time for snow tires. Time for locating where I buried our winter boots. Time for coats and mittens and scarves. Yup! All of the signs are in place. Get ready. It's coming.......


Saturday, 8 November 2014

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

The musings of my "retired" mind when allowed to run amok have been known to create some bizarre ideas and this blog is no exception. Please consider yourself forewarned! 

Herbert Hoover once stated that, War is old men talking, young men fighting.  During the Vietnam War when the carnage tally was at its peak, George McGovern complained, I'm fed up to the ears with old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in.  A journalist during the post 9/11 fighting in Afghanistan theorized that no one under fifty years of age should be conscripted. Save our youth was his call; send our 'old geezers' was his message. With great humour and an inherent grain of truth he wrote, The last thing the terrorists want to see right now is a couple of million old farts with attitudes. Hmmmm! Maybe he had something there.

Vimy Ridge was for me a poignant reminder of war's horrific claim on the young lives who should have been our country's future. My heart ached and aches after that visit. Remembrance Day as always will drive home that message.  

Perhaps, I muse, we should make the politicians who declare war, fight them.  Hey, George Jr., I imagine saying. So you say there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.  Feel free to go get them, Sir! Can't you just envision his, Are you kidding me, glare?

I imagine a world in which only the retired or over fifty are asked to fight our wars and their responses.

Upon seeing the trenches in World War I:  Are you kidding me?  Muck, cramped quarters and dampness? Hell, my arthritis will kill me. Ah, nope, won't do it!

Or either side in the Battle of Britain training flight crews: Okay, let me get this straight; you want me to fit into that little cockpit?  Do I have guns?  Okay!  Does the other side have guns? Are you kidding me? Pause.  Ah, no. I think not. Nein!

Upon arrival in Korea, Iraq, Bosnia.....you choose.  Could I get hurt?  Are you kidding me?  I have investments to look after.  Nope, forget it!

When asked to fight in Afghanistan: Will I miss the Saturday night hockey game or next week's golf game? I probably will? You are kidding me, right?  Sorry, then no can do! 

Silly naive musings on a lazy Saturday afternoon yes, but I have to wonder what kind of world we would live in if two rules regarding war were universally accepted by every nation, fringe or terrorist group.  Rule # 1.  All leaders who declare war, must physically fight in that war. Rule # 2. All conscripts must be over fifty.  A more peaceful world, perhaps. I like imagine a world in which, even if war were declared, no one would show up. You are kidding me? you laugh.  Yah, I acknowledge. But what if? 










Tuesday, 4 November 2014

TEARS, RESPECT and REMEMBRANCE

If ye break faith with us who die, we shall not sleep. John McCrae

My hand moves across limestone sourced from an ancient Roman quarry in Croatia, limestone enscribed with the names of 11,285 Canadians killed during World War I, Canadians whose bodies were never recovered or properly buried. C.H. Blackmore. As if using brail, I randomly feel his name. I never knew you, Sir, and never will, I whisper, but thank you. My eyes well with tears and I bow my head to hide the uncontrollable wave of emotion rolling over me. So many names.


2014 marks the 100th. anniversary of the start of World War I.  In September, to honour the sacrifices made by 60,000 Canadian soldiers, Jim and I, with our friends, Cathy and Dave, journeyed into Normandy from Paris to visit the Canadian Memorial at Vimy Ridge.  Emotionally, it was most definitely not an easy day, but, as a Canadian, it was a trip that I will never regret and a day that I will never forget. France, recognizing the importance of this particular battle to Canada, ceded 225 acres at the top of Vimy Ridge to us for construction of our World War I memorial.  Sculptor Walter Allward's monument towers over the Vimy battlefield where a memorial park now preserves trenches, tunnels and craters. What Veteran's Affairs has created is a profoundly visceral, uniquely Canadian experience.



To approach Vimy from Arras is to pass a sea of endless rows of white grave markers undulating in waves across the landscape and seemingly stretching beyond the horizon. Commonwealth, American, French, and German cemeteries all starkly remind the visitor of the human toll claimed by this "war to end all wars".  So many dead.  The war to end all wars, I think. Don't we wish!


To walk the trenches at Vimy is to evoke visions of the horrific conditions our young men were forced to endure. Nightmarish artillery barrages; the menacing crack of sniper fire; rat-infested, waterlogged, muddy living conditions; lice infestations, infections, gangrene and devastating disfiguring wounds in an era with no antibiotics; the ever present fear of death. Dear god, and this was a war that should never have happened.


Like heavy makeup on a pockmarked face, the current blanket of thick green grass does little to conceal shell craters and collapsed trench lines in the surrounding terrain.  Add criss-crossing barbed wire and what an apocalyptic wasteland this must have been, this soil on which so many of our young Canadian boys fought and were killed.


What I was totally unprepared for was the power, intensity and profoundly moving impact of sculptor Walter Allward's stunning monument standing on Hill 45.  The luminous stone structure and figures, carved names of the fallen, and sheer commanding size of the memorial speak volumes.  To the valour of their countrymen in The Great War and in memory of their 60,000 dead this monument is raised by the people of Canada. We will not forget.


What literally brought me my knees and caused a free fall of tears was the sculpture of a grieving Mother Canada.  Standing apart, all alone at the rear of the monument, she stares down at a fallen Canadian soldier and mourns her loss.  Not a Remembrance Day will pass without this image playing in my memory.

  

Too many conflicts - World Wars I and II, Korea, Bosnia, Afghanistan, now Iraq. Will the list never end?  Our young men and women have died away from home on the soil of too many countries. Too many families and friends have suffered a great hole in their lives, a void impossible to fill. Such sacrifice should never be forgotten. Wear a poppy in remembrance. Attend a Remembrance Day ceremony if possible. At the very least, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day in the eleventh month, take a moment to remember and respect. 






Sunday, 26 October 2014

O CANADA

On October 23, our son Christopher wrote, The one definitive way to defeat terrorism is to refuse to be terrified. Never have I been prouder to be a Canadian than right now. Bravo, Chris! Well said.

For the past week we Canadians have ridden an unwelcome emotional roller coaster. The deliberate hit and run killing of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent in Quebec, an unarmed Corporal Nathan Cirillo gunned down while standing guard at the World War I War Memorial in Ottawa and deadly gunfire in the hallowed halls of our sacred Parliament Buildings, have shaken a nation. We are a country generally unused to such naked violence.  Extreme security measures in our national capital are virtually non existent; our Houses of Parliament have never been an armed camp, distant from its citizens. Rather, the general public are welcomed, even encouraged, to attend Question Period and to tour Canada's seat of democracy.

Make no mistake, though, Canada has proven that its fuzzy, warm, "nice" exterior is like a soft glove covering an iron fist. Don't mess with us. Our troops have more than proven their mettle, Vimy Ridge and Juno Beach, being fine examples. We will not be intimidated wrote the Calgary Sun.



Tough talk aside, it has been the remarkable actions of solidarity by Canadian citizens that, for me, have defined the strength and heart of my Canada and brought a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes.

Gunfire, a targeted downed soldier and panicked fleeing onlookers!  Margaret Lerhe, a nurse on her way to work, began to run, not towards her own safety, but into the dangerous chaos and towards Corporal Cirillo.  She was the first to administer CPR.


I would love to hug the young cadet in Port Coquitlam, B.C., who daily has, of his own volition, stood guard at his city's cenotaph in memory of Nathan Cirillo.


And to our veterans, who right across our glorious nation, have held vigils for Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and Corporal Nathan Cirillo, I say thank you. Lest we forget.


As Corporal Nathan Cirillo's body was moved along the Highway of Heroes from Ottawa to his hometown of Hamilton, veterans, emergency workers and young people alike flocked to the highway bridges and streets along his route.  No special invitation was provided; "they" just came to honour their fallen soldier. Canadian flags, crisp salutes and somber hands on hearts said it all.


And then there was Ontario's Premier, Kathleen Wynn.  With our federal government and much of Ottawa in lockdown, Ms Wynn rose to address the Ontario Legislature. Our belief is that people who are using violence to undermine democracy want us to be silenced, and we refuse to be silenced.  Greeted with a standing ovation from all political parties, she then proceeded with the normal question period.  God bless you, Kathleen Wynn!



Horrific circumstances and a nation showing remarkable solidarity. I agree, Christopher. Never have I been prouder to be a Canadian than right now. O Canada, how I love thee!






Monday, 20 October 2014

COOKING UP MEMORIES

Christopher: I brought some Mt. Scio Farm savoury with me. How about we do up some Newfoundland-style stuffing for a change this Christmas?
Matthew (upon entering the kitchen and in shock at hearing his brother's sacrilegious suggestion) orders: Step away from that stove!

Jim and I are blessed with two sons who love to cook and who are exceptionally good at it.  Thank heavens, because both of their Grandfathers barely knew how to boil water. Christopher, our innovator, is always for altering recipes, jazzing them up, and experimenting with flavours. Had he not chosen a life in academia, he could easily have become an accomplished professional chef.  Matthew, our traditionalist, is equally talented in the kitchen, but posseses a staunchly loyal 'you-don't-mess-with-tradition' attitude. And what you don't mess with, according to Matt, are treasured family recipes handed down from his Gramma. 

My Mother was nothing short of amazing in her kitchen. In the months before Jim and I were married, I followed Mom around like an eager little puppy dog, jotting down recipes on little cards, as she dramatically waved her hands using terms that made absolutely no sense to me.  A 'nob' of butter!  A 'handful' of paprika!  A 'jigger' of lemon juice! Whaaaat? I moaned.  It has taken me a lifetime of trial and error with those now dog-eared, food-stained little file cards, to come close to matching what my Mother so blithely produced.


From dozens and dozens of spectacular concoctions, a few of the most sacred are Mom's recipes for turkey stuffing, pumpkin pie ( part of her Bajan heritage with a molasses twist ), French salad dressing ( the reason I don't use bottled dressings ), spaghetti sauce ( OMG good ) and, of course, the plethora of Christmas cookies for which she was so well known.  To enjoy any of these is to savour years of family meals shared and remembered.  

Eating Mom's beef stroganoff is to hear my Father's teasing voice, Great Boris Stromberg, Jean! and Mom's head shaking correction, Oh, Norm!  Christmas shortbreads that literally melt in my mouth evoke memories of Mom's annual Herculean stint in the kitchen ( until she was eighty-seven, by the way ) baking up her fifteen different Christmas cookies. Yup, fifteen! Now you understand why I have such a lithe ( cough! cough! ) figure. If it is cheese soufflĂ©, it must be Friday night!

My sister, brother and I were raised in a family that cherished deep and plentiful Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas traditions; traditional foods as prepared by Mom were an intrinsic part of our celebrations. Perhaps that is why, early Christmas morning while all are still asleep and as I stuff the turkey, I so strongly sense my Mother's presence.  It is as if she is enjoying her early morning coffee, overseeing my preparations.  Not a year has gone by since her passing that in those early morning moments I don't look heavenward, smile and thank her for the treasured food heritage she left us.



Tuesday, 14 October 2014

I'M A B.O.F. WHO KNEW?

Early morning swim complete, I rushed home, grabbed my iPad and began my search.  B.O.F.?  Today was my first exposure to the term and although it was explained to me, I felt a need for further clarification.  "BoF" popped up on my screen. "Business of Fashion" it read.  Think not, I giggled, glancing down at my scruffy, chlorine-smelling jeans.  And then there was "Bof" (spelled differently). No luck! That is French for "whatever" as in:

Tom: Hey, Harry, wanna' shoot some pucks.
Harry: Bof!

Nope, I muttered.  No B.O.F.  The meaning? you ask. Well, according to one of my fellow swimmers, her grandson reported that old retired people are collectively referred to as B.O.F.'s - Boring Old Farts.  Who knew? Not moi and on behalf of my fellow B.O.F's, I am offended. Don't anger a B.O.F., sonny boy, unless you are prepared to handle what you unleash.

So hey kid, here's the thing.  After, you provide me with your operational definition of "old", we can discuss " boring". Nah! Who needs to wait; I'll cover 'boring' now.

By 9:00 am this morning, most of my BOFy friends were in the pool, at the gym, cycling, walking our local trails or volunteering their time.  Had you rolled out of bed yet? Just askin'.  Coffee or lunch with my fellow BOFs is most likely too noisey for you. We are prone to talking and laughing. Verbal communication, I think is the term. Not cool, I guess, when our time could be better spent in silence, head down, texting pals on our iPhones.  Just sayin'.

My thoughts automatically turn to BOFy people we have met on our travels.  In 2007 on the Amalfi Coast, just after I had retired into BOFdom, we met a true BOF specimen with wrinkled face and snow white hair. Imagine! Probably truly boring and uninteresting, not deserving of any time. Right, kid?  And all he had ever accomplished in his life was developing the laser beam. Hmmm? Know what that is? Just askin'.

On our recent Rhone trip, we met a BOF who would have really put you off.  White-haired, he slowly walked with a cane, frequently dragging his right foot. Oh, and his right arm had limited use, too. Having suffered a stroke last year, Chris, the BOF in question, nolonger able to fly (oh, yes, he was once a pilot) decided to do something about his bucket list.  Travelling alone, yes alone, from Brisbane, Australia, he visited Singapore and Dubai, then took two European River cruises, the Rhine and the Rhone. When we disembarked from our cruise he was on his way to London, England. White-haired and older.  Must have been boring. Right?

You know what, kid?  As I pen this blog, I am becoming prouder with each word I write of being a BOF!  I have laughed, cried, sung, danced, worked, cursed, contributed and loved for a lifetime.  I have earned the distinction BOF.  Now that I am nolonger Daphne Lockett, Broker of Record, you can refer to me a Daphne Lockett, B.O.F.  Got that, kid!?!  Now, if you will excuse me, I'm off for a drink with my fellow BOFs.







Saturday, 11 October 2014

IRONIC ICONICS

Bezu (Policeman): Did you approve? (about the Louvre Pyramid)
Robert Langdon: Yes, your pyramid is magnificent.
Bezu: (Grunt!) A scar on the face of Paris.
.....The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown

Before we journeyed to France, I admit to being the typical tourist.  Two iconic landmarks dominated my "must see" list - the Eiffel Tower and the Musee Louvre. They did not disappoint. Dramatic during the day, both structures become positively magical at nighttime. A staggering 16.7 ( 2012 ) million visit the Eiffel Tower and Louvre on an annual basis, yet both of these landmarks were initially criticized and disliked, even unwanted, by Parisians. 


Built by Gustav Eiffel in 1889, the Eiffel Tower was erected for the Exposition Universalle ( a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the revolution ). Although a huge success at the Exposition, the structure came under virulent criticism from the leading French artists and intellectuals of the time; it was not in keeping with architecture of the belle epoch. So much negative pressure was brought to bear, that the magistrates of Paris withdrew funding forcing Eiffel to complete his structure using personal resources. Deconstruction of the tower was contractually scheduled for twenty years after its opening.  Eiffel, desperate to keep his tower in place, was ultimately able to convince the French Government of the value of the tower for military radio communications. Et voila, the Eiffel Tower remained standing and a global cultural icon, attracting 7 million visitors a year, was born. Can you imagine Paris without the Eiffel Tower? I can't!

Totally unpreprepared for the beauty of the Eiffel Tower, Jim and I audibly gasped as we rounded the corner and the structure came into view. There it suddenly was, soaring an impressive 81 stories, its iron lattice work actually appearing too delicate to support its own weight. 


And after dusk, a lit Eiffel Tower becomes positively magical.  As if drawn by some magnetic force, crowds gather to witness the spectacle and are doubly wowed when every hour on the hour the tower's sparkling light show of strobes pierces the dark Parisian skies. C'est magnifique.


What I would never have anticipated in a million years was my instant love affair with the Louvre.  So overpowering is this attraction, that I would return to Paris tomorrow just to revisit the Musee Louvre.  Anyone game?  


Opened in 1793, the Louvre Palace, now one of the world's largest museums, attracted 9.7 million visitors in 2012, making it the most visited attraction in Paris.  Over 400,000 objects from pre-history to the 21st century are housed in over 632,300 square feet.  To name just a few, it is home to Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, Winged Victory of Samothrace and paintings of the greatest artists from the Renaissance to the Romantics. To my Facebook picture postings of the Louvre, Faye responded with, I could spend six weeks in the Louvre alone.  That is no exaggeration, Faye!  Jim and I lovingly joked that when my sister, Jo-Anne, a true fine art student and lover, visits the Louvre, she may never emerge.

Gracious wide marble stairways lead to spacious wings offering a multitude of well organized and marked exhibits. Skylights bathe priceless paintings in natural light.  The interior is nothing short of magnificent. But it was entrance courtyard with its large glass pyramid surrounded by three smaller pyramids that stole my heart. I am incapable of explaining why; I just wanted 'to be there'.  

Entrance issues led to the construction of architect, I. M. Pei's, glass pyramid entrance in 1989. The larger of the pyramids provides a stunning modern central entrance to the various wings of the museum.  Dramatic and light-filled, I love the intriguing juxtaposition of modern glass to aged marble and historic architecture. For me, it is our future offering entrance to our past.  C'est brilliante.


To this day, the Louvre's pyramids remain highly controversial.  A whole school of thought view the futuristic edifice as out of place, a scar on the face of Paris.  But the Louvre pyramids hold a charismatic draw on their own.  Crowds gather in the courtyard, meeting friends, snapping photos, peering into the mysteries revealed below or just sitting on the concrete benches taking in the historic surroundings. And at night? Well, let me just say that the Louvre is not outshone by her Rive Gauche competitor.


How ironic, I now muse, that two of France's iconic landmarks have historically been so strongly derided and unwanted, whether in total or in part.  Somewhere in here is a lesson.  Perhaps it is as simple as opening our thinking and emotions to change.  Who knows where the next ironic iconic may be.












Thursday, 9 October 2014

IT IS THE SMALL THINGS

When travelling, who doesn't wish to visit iconic sites?  Certainly France is not lacking in the "famous destinations" catagory - The Louvre, The Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Pont d'Avignon...and the list goes on and on and infinitely on.  But when memories of visits to those iconic sites fade over time, as they will, it is the small things for me that ultimately stick, creating a lasting impression of a country. The passeggiata in Italy, the serpent-like mists in Scotland that snake around the hills of the Highlands, obsessively neat woodpiles in the mountain towns of Switzerland, and how many ways the Irish can serve potatoes, to name a few. 


In Musee d'Orsay, home to the world's largest collection of Impressionist art, we stopped to observe a class of Kindergarten-age children huddled in front of Renoir's Dance At The Moulin de la Galette. Their teacher was discussing la lumiere naturelle; her rapt students were eagerly pointing to the painting indicating where they saw figures bathed in the tree dappled light.  When she moved on to discuss Renoir's brightly coloured brush strokes, her mini scholars grew even more animated in their search for examples.  Four and five years of age! So young, but already being exposed to art appreciation. How much we could learn from the French.


Perhaps ongoing art education is why shops no matter how small, whether selling vegetables or cookies, display their goods so artistically. Shopping in France is a delightful feast for the eyes. 


The French love their bread and they want it fresh.  Not a slice of processed gluten or Wonder Bread did we witness anywhere, in city or in small village. Boulangeries, who daily bake baguettes and croissants, number 26,000 across France.  26,000!  Lineups outside local boulangeries are a daily occurrence. In Vieux Lyon, the lineups for one obviously loved boulangerie actually stretched across the main street.


The French pursuit of freshness is also evidenced in the plethora of small local markets, epiceries, butcher shops and fromageries. Acheter frais.


On board Swiss Emerald, one of our cruise directors ran a French Class, in which she also covered examples of French etiquette.  In hindsight, I am convinced that Tauck was attempting to ensure that we North Americans weren't our usual brash, abrupt, in-a-hurry selves and to remind us that we were in a country with different practises, a country that values good manners. Always, she stated address a shopkeeper when entering their store and 'bonjour' will not cut it. We were advised to greet proprietors with Bonjour, Madame or Bonjour, Monsieur.  Jim and I took Veronica's advice to heart, each time receiving the happy response of a huge smile and welcoming assistance. The so-called indifferent waiters of France didn't exist when greeted as such upon entering a cafe.  Oh, how simple.


The practice in France for tipping taxi drivers is to simply "round up" the fare.  On three different occasions when Jim attempted to tip more, our drivers respectfully declined the extra money.  In Rome, which remains my favourite destination city, if the taxi driver hadn't already attempted to overcharge or 'palm' our money, he would have grabbed the excessive tip and rushed away, most likely laughing.

Merci France for so many small moments that will lovingly remain in my psyche.  Merci beaucoup for reminding me to appreciate the beauty in our everyday surroundings and life, to patronize my local shopkeepers, to search out the freshest food, to practise common decencies and honour in a profession. Merci mille fois for making us feel so welcome in your beautiful country.  We will return. Normandy and Bordeaux beckon.