Monday, April 30, 2007

Parental Pearls of Wisdom

The other day I was speaking on the telephone with my 40 year old daughter, about this and that, and something I had been meaning to ask her came up in the conversation.

What would she say, if asked, that I , as her mother, had taught her? What "pearls of wisdom" had I imparted to her on her journey from child to adult? Without hesitation, she said two things sprang to mind and she taught both of them all the time, to her high school students.

The first, she said, was to always apologize to anyone with whom you had a falling out or a misunderstanding. Even if you feel the other person is in the wrong or that you do not believe you have done or said anything wrong, but there is tension between you, don't let it stand, but be the first to apologize. Not necessarily to say "I'm sorry I was wrong " but do at least say "I'm sorry I've upset you." Or something similar.

Well yes, this has always been my philosophy and I've practised it faithfully, as necessary. I think that all would agree that this is a positive lesson to have passed along. So I was pleased with that one.

The second thing, she said, was that every time you get an opportunity to give input or feedback you should do so. Always fill in the comment section on any form when asked. Take every occasion offered to make your opinion heard. This one took me back me a little, but it is something I always do. It just surprised me that she would have been so impressed by this.

Then I asked her if there was any lesson her father had passed along to her. Of course there was and it really made me laugh. Her father, a university professor, always told her that a student should take every moment of the time allotted for an exam and it would be foolish to leave early.

When I got off the phone, I went to tell my husband what she had said about his "pearl of wisdom" and he started to lecture me about it. "It's true," he said earnestly, even after having retired 8 years ago. I'm afraid he didn't see the humour in it, but I sure did. Especially when I started to get the lecture as well.

So there you have it folks, in a nutshell, the sum total of the wisdom imparted by the parental unit of this family, to the daughter at least. I'll have to ask my son what his answer would be.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Saturday Photo Hunt -- Rare

I'm late posting because I drew a blank on this topic. But looking at some other photos and going again through my limited files (only had the digital camera for a few months), I decided to put this photo up.

This is a bronze grouping at a well known lookout point in Vancouver. As you can see it is a lifesize group, having its photo taken in front of the panoramic view. Opposite, about 8 feet away, is the bronze photographer, camera at eye level and with his hand out to stop the passersby walking into the picture.

So many people walk around the corner and say sorry, as if they are real people. A very amusing local statue, and very unique, therefore I assume qualifies as rare.

Friday, April 27, 2007

The Dream Healer -- An Opera in Two Acts

What, you haven't heard of this opera? The one which tells the story of Carl Jung's disintegrating marriage and his interaction with Pilgrim, a patient in his clinic in Zurich? What rock have you been hiding under, my friend?

Well you haven't heard of it because its first public performance will be at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts at UBC, seen above, in March 2008. It's part of the celebration of the University of British Columbia's centenary and the 10th Anniversary of the Chan.

Yesterday afternoon, at Cecil Green Park, I had the pleasure of attending a preview performance, consisting of excerpts and readings. The singers were four young students from the Opera program at UBC and present were fifty or so members of the Faculty Women's Club.

I want to tell you the delightful story of how this opera came about. Canadian composer, Lloyd Burritt, who was present and related the story himself, retired in 1999 from his "day job", teaching high school music and theatre. All his friends asked the hyperactive Burritt what he was going to do and he answered, "I'm going to write an opera." He went into a book store and asked the store owner, which, of all the books in the store, would she choose, if she were going to write an opera. He said, without hesitation she picked up the book, Pilgrim, by celebrated Canadian author, Timothy Findley. She also told him that he would never get it right.

Of course, he accepted the challenge. After careful study of the book, he wrote two arias, using Findley's own words and sent them to him and next thing he had obtained the rights to the book. And so the opera was born. He recognized that he needed a librettist and two different ones have been involved, with the last, Don Mowatt, also present yesterday.

Findley's book tells the story of Pilgrim, a person who has lived many lives, both as a woman and as a man. He decides to try to end this cycle once and for all, but after a suicide attempt he is taken to the clinic near Zurich where Carl Jung works. The book tells the stories of many of Pilgrim's past lives, which Jung discovers through his journals. It also tells of Jung's interaction with Pilgrim and other patients, as well as the disintegration of Jung's marriage to his wife Emma, because of his love affair with a former patient, now therapist at the clinic.

The story has been much changed for the opera, since a two hour time frame demands a very different treatment. It concentrates more on Jung, with his disintegrating marriage, and the interaction of Jung and Pilgrim who appears at first as a dream figure to Jung. But later he becomes alive and interacts with the other patients and doctors at the clinic. There is a struggle between Jung and Pilgrim as Jung tries to help him but finally Pilgrim escapes and dies and Jung is left to begin again the work of healing his patients.

Well that all sounds very interesting. But let me tell you about the performance yesterday. Basically they are trying to raise money for this staging of the opera. $300,000, in fact. So they have put together a series of dialogues from the opera, which were acted by Don Mowatt, the librettist and actor, along with Carolyn Finlay, another actor. These were interspersed with the arias, sung yesterday by the four young singers. Now the two young women and two young men may still be students, although one is a master's student, but they have incredible voices and sang very professionally. The performance took place in the two storeyed living room of Cecil Green Park, on campus, and they were singing full power, with the audience no more than 6 to 10 feet away. I can tell you that it sent shivers down my spine to hear them. Accompanied only by a pianist, these young people gave a stunning performance and when they sang a quartet together, it brought tears to my eyes.

The singers, along with the composer, the librettist and the accompanist joined us for afternoon tea in the dining room afterwards and we had the opportunity to speak with them, which was a delight for us. Their enthusiasm about the project is very infectious. There is a collaboration with the Department of Psychiatry and the Institute of Mental Health who together have organized a three-part lecture series, featuring leading Jungian analyst Marion Woodman and other renowned speakers, which will take place next year during the performance week. The hope is to stimulate discussions about psychiatry and mental health and raise awareness of these issues in society.

Three internationally known Canadian opera singers, Judith Forst, John Avey and Roelof Oostwoud, have been engaged to sing the leading rolls, with UBC Opera ensemble filling out the other rolls. I think that I will definitely be attending one of these performances and I was persuaded yesterday, by the wonderful experience, to become a "Friend of The Dream Healer", by making a donation to help stage this very interesting venture.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Technical Difficulties Update

I just want to say thank you so much to all the people who replied to my cry for help with the latest "technical difficulties". I have cut and pasted all the applicable comments and emails into the Word file on this topic and I actually understand quite a bit of it and will explore all the suggestions later. I have managed to unlock the image uploading option to blogger. (Well maybe it just happened coincidentally, who can tell?) I want to thank Sarabeth especially since she gave me very clear and concise instructions for resizing in Paint and also for good suggestions for overcoming the uploading problems.

I have to tell you, quite ashamedly, that the reason I could not see how to resize in the photo software programs, which I already have on my computer, was that I did not have a file in place. As everyone but me already knows the relevant options are grey until you have an image to work on! I assumed it was because I had an inferior version which came with some hardware or other I had bought.

Well as I always say, these things are sent to make us humble when we get too big for our boots. Another of my sayings is that I hope to learn something new every day and yesterday I learned quite a few new things. Once I was working with a young pharmacist who knew my theory that a good day at work was when you learned at least one new thing. It was ten o'clock in the morning and we had just discovered something new to both of us. She said, "Can we go home now?" Good try!

Graduation Gift -- Italy (Part IV)

Following our adventures in Siena for the Palio, the three of us made our way down to Firenza, or Florence. For my husband and I, this was our second trip to Florence but we didn't stay in Fiesole as we did previously. Instead we had arranged to stay for a few days in a little pensione, Pensione Losanna, which I had found in some budget guide to Italy.

Now I have to say that it provided a very minimum standard of accommodation, but the owners were friendly people and everything was very clean. So we didn't mind too much, although the towels were a little threadbare. But it served our purpose and there was parking for our hired car available on the street, and this was not an easy thing to find in Florence. Of course, we didn't use our car to get around, since Florence is a wonderful city for walking everywhere.

Every day we walked into the centre of the city and visited the special palaces, churches, and museums for which Florence is renowned. In between, we found some charming out of the way places to eat. One of our favourites for dinner was a small family run trattoria which had no menu. On offer was whatever they decided, perhaps a choice of one or two primi piatti or first courses with the same limited choice for main course, or secondi piatti. Dessert was always macedonia or fruit salad.

As I've said before Florence was the centre of the Renaissance or Rinascimento in Italian. That wonderful creative period in history, where literature, philosophy, art, science, and politics flourished, began in Florence, especially under the patronage of the Medici family who had come to power there in the 14th century. Everywhere you look in Florence, on various buildings, you can see their distinctive coat of arms, a shield with the five balls in a circle, although the actual number of balls, or palle, varied over the years.

As an aside, my photo on the right is taken in the Piazza della Signoria. It's actually the Loggia at one end of the Piazza and I'm sure most of you will remember it from the scene of the fight and the stabbing in the film, Room with a View. You can see Cellini's wonderful bronze statue of Perseus holding up Medusa's head, sword in the other hand.

There are so many things in Florence I could tell you about. I've talked about the Duomo or Cathedral and the Baptistery before, so I won't bore you again with those places. Of course, I have to keep some things to talk about when I tell you about my trip to Florence, in 1997, when I came to study Italian at a language school for three weeks.

So this time, I've chosen two places, with the first being the Galleria dell'Accademia where Michelangelo's David resides. The museum was conceived at the end of the 17th century to house an art collection of 13th to 16th century Florentine paintings for students to study and copy. However, in 1873, the larger than life statue of David, which originally stood in the Piazza della Signoria, was moved to the Accademia to protect it from damage and pollution and it was replaced by a replica outdoors.

After you enter the building, before you come to the David, standing under its specially built rotunda, you pass through a tapestry lined gallery which displays 7 other sculptures of Michelangelo, most of which are unfinished.

I can't tell you how moving it is to see these half finished statues. The figures look as if they are struggling to be free of the marble blocks. How Michelangelo could have stood before a block of marble, then gradually unveiled the figures within by laboriously chipping away with his chisel, sometimes for years at a time, has never ceased to amaze me. Somehow, for me, they are almost more impressive than the David, with which we are all so familiar. However, this huge statue, commissioned by the city of Florence, made Michelangelo the foremost sculptor of his time, while still in his twenties.

These statues are the reason why so many tourists line up outside the building and wait patiently to enter. But, of course, the painting collection is superb, with examples from Botticelli, Fra Bartolomeo, Ghirlandaio and Lippi. So after the long wait, don't just see the Michelangelos and leave, as so many do.

One other delightful museum which we visited was the Bargello. Built in 1255 as the city's town hall, it is a remarkably beautiful building which, after being a prison, was renovated in 1865 to become one of Italy's first national museums. It houses an outstanding collection of Florentine Renaissance sculpture with rooms displaying spectacular bronzes of Donatello, Cellini and Giambologna. In the Bargello, resides the beautiful bronze David by Donatello, almost effeminate in its aspect and almost as well known as Michelangelo's David. Also housed there are some wonderful examples of the glazed terracotta works of the della Robbia family, in fact two rooms full, and in the Sala delle armi, an equally wonderful collection of armaments and armour.

The wonderful thing about this museum is the building itself. Austere and square and boxy on the outside, it has this beautiful open air inner courtyard with loggia and balcony and soaring stone staircase by which you access the upper floors. I doubt you could find a more perfect setting to display this priceless collection of Renaissance sculpture and it remains one of my favourite museums of Italy.

Next time I post about this trip, come with me to Assissi, where we spent a week, making it our centre for the hill towns of Umbria.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Technical Difficulties

Just when I was getting smug about this blogging thing, the technical difficulties have struck again. It's not as if it's a surprise either. Welshcakes, on her blog, Sicily Scene, had exactly the same problem. In this post she said that, on uploading photos to blogger, she got the message "you are currently using 20 MB (2%) of your 1024 MB". Well some of her commenters told her to reduce the size of her photos before uploading them. I took notice of this because I thought, I don't know what this means, but I'm sure to run across it sooner or later. So I "cut and pasted" the suggestions into a Word file to keep for when I might need them. After all her blog was a year old, mine only a couple of months. This wasn't going to happen to me for a long time.

See the smug woman, let's upset her applecart! So with my Florence post almost completed, I was just adding a couple of photos, when I got a similar little message, 29MB(2%) if your 1024 MB in use. But the bottom line is that I can't upload anything else. So there sits the draft post, with two of the four photos in place and two waiting in the wings. My uploading totally at a standstill.

Naturally, I am invited to add more memory for the very reasonable sum of $25US per year for 7GB or even more $ for even more GB. You know, if it had been the usual $9.95 US that everyone seems to think things are worth, I probably would have whipped out my "online" credit card and used it, but $25/yr is just too much to spend on my "free" blog.

As an aside, let me tell you how I am getting these photos from my 1984 trip to my blog. I am scanning the prints to the desktop computer upstairs and saving them. I then email them from that computer as an attachment to my other email address that I use on my laptop. There I save them to another file and upload from that. Now I am glad to have caused you some amusement at me and my convoluted process, which I had to work out by myself, since I didn't have a clue how to do it otherwise. In theory this laptop, since it is networked, should be able to access the files in the desktop, but the old technical helpdesk has not been able to succeed in this, and since he doesn't want to do it, he gave up very smartly.

Of course, when I look at the directions I carefully saved, I see that they are too generic for me. I recognize that I have to resize the images using some software, but in looking at the two photo software programs I have on my computer I don't see that option. I have Canon Zoombrowser Ex and Arcsoft PhotoStudio (both came with my Canon A620 camera) on the laptop but so far can't see how to resize in these programs. I think I have a Corel PhotoAlbum disc somewhere because we have that on the desktop so could load that.

As you see it may be some time before I return with images in my posts and I think they are so bland without a little something.

The very big question is: when I do figure out how to do this, do I have to go back and resize all the images in my previous posts? And why are they locking me out when in theory I have almost 1000 MB left?

All suggestions will be gratefully accepted but remember they have to be very specific. I am not a "put the box together" person. I'm a "put tab A in slot B and fold over C, etc, follow the diagram" person. For heaven sakes, I'm an old lady! Take pity on me!

Thank you for you kind attention to my woes. mhr, if you are listening, any suggestions?

Monday, April 23, 2007

Book Circulation Day

Today, for the Book Circulation Group, I will pass on to the next reader this book: My Heart is Africa - A Flying Adventure, by Scott Griffin. Obviously I misunderstood the dust jacket in that I thought Scott was going to Africa to fly the medical personnel of the Flying Doctor Service to their various emergencies. However, as an experienced business man, he went there to organize the chaos in which the FDS found itself.

In 1996, he flew his single-engine Cessna to Kenya, where the headquarters of the organization were situated, although his wife wisely flew by commercial flight. His two years in Kenya were rather frustrating work wise, as the politics which adversely affected the funding for the FDS were never really resolved, although he was able to make some operational changes for the better. He met some very eccentric characters in Africa, crashed his plane several times, was arrested in Tanzania along with his wife and, in his tiny plane, he managed to circumnavigate the African continent, flying over mountains, deserts and jungles. His experiences gave him a feel for the great problems there but he came away with a great appreciation for and love of Africa.

I found the book quite interesting, a quick read, well enough written. However, quite early on in the book, he made a serious factual misstatement which then caused me to wonder how accurate he was with the rest of his background material.

He wrongly identified Louis and Mary Leakey as the discoverers of a fossil skull of Homo habilis in 1972 at Lake Turkana, Kenya, when it was actually their son Richard who found it. He also incorrectly called the fossil the 3 million year old Lucy, which was a more complete skeleton, was in fact Australopithecus afaransis, and was discovered by Donald Johansen in Ethopia in 1974. Lucy has always been a great interest of mine, so this was a very glaring error. As an aside, Donald Johansen wrote a fascinating book about his discovery, sadly out of print, called Lucy, the Beginnings of Mankind.

On the way to the gym, I will pick up the book, Theft, by Peter Carey, two time Booker Prize winner. It is described on as "a magnificent high-stakes art heist wrapped around a fraternal saga". Reviews are mixed by readers, ranging from two stars to five stars. Hmm, we shall see.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Saturday Photo Hunt -- Steps


This is a photo I took in 1984, in Rome, of the Spanish Steps, Scalinata di Trinità dei Monti. Built in 1725, the 138 steps lead from the Piazza di Spagna to the 16th century French church above it, Trinità dei Monti.

The steps are usually covered with tourists and Italians alike, sitting in the sunshine, so I'm surprised that I caught it relatively bare.

If you are ever there, I want to tell you about a well-kept secret delight that is very close by. If you face the steps from below, the house on the right was where Keats lived and died in 1821. It is now a small museum named the Keats-Shelley House and it's crammed with wonderful memorabilia of Keats, Shelley, Byron and other Romantic poets. We spent a couple of hours in there quite happily reading their letters and poking about amongst the treasures, all by ourselves. Maybe it's been discovered by everyone since then, but we certainly enjoyed it in peace.

It seems all my posts lately are about Italy, even Photo Hunt. I hope no one minds.

To join click on the Photo Hunt Participant button on the sidebar and to see the blogroll, click on the words on the sidebar.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Let's Speak Italian

As a student in high school I studied two languages for five years: French and Latin. I always got very good grades and though obviously I never became fluent in Latin, I thought my French was not too bad. When I went to France for the first time, it was quickly brought home to me that I was hardly fluent, in fact, not even vaguely acceptable, according to the French people who turned away from my efforts, shaking their heads and saying anglais, English, disgustedly.

I was also quite amazed to see how, in Europe, many people are not only fluent in a language other than their own, but in fact many languages. I once knew a young Dutchman who spoke 7 languages and, if I were to judge by his English, fluently. But, although I had a very good grounding in the grammar of a romance language, I did not pursue French any further. However, since Canada is a bilingual country, everything is labelled in both languages and I can still read it passably well.

When we were to return to Italy in 1979, I decided that I would take a three month intensive course in Italian at a local community college. The teacher was a trilingual lady, born in Switzerland of an Italian mother and French father, and of course, English speaking. The wonderful thing about Italian is that every letter is pronounced, as opposed to French where there is no confusion in the written word, but to my ear many different words sound the same. I really liked the Italian language and I found enough confidence that I managed to say what I wanted to say passably and sometimes understand the reply.

On my return, I continued with the next level course, but there were only two levels of Italian given at the college. After a while I found that the second level class was being cancelled for lack of students. So my interest in Italian dwindled away, although occasionally I would revise what I had learned, and study more material on my own, especially if I intended to visit Italy.

In the early nineties, I noticed that the Continuing Education Department of the university was offering Italian. Thinking it would only be beginners' level, I did not follow it up. But the next year I noticed that they were offering three levels. So I went to look into it. I discovered that a young dynamic Italian woman, Luisa, had come to Vancouver, to be with her boyfriend, a graduate student in Physics and she had single-handedly organized an Italian section in the Language Department of Continuing Education.

At the first class she sorted us into various levels and, after having revised before the course, I ended up in the highest level, with Luisa as my teacher. It was a three hour class, once a week, and I enrolled in this class for two semesters, every year for more than ten years, but with different teachers over the years. The class was always given in Italian, never English and it was taught using the modern communicative method, rather than the grammar driven method.

In 1997, Luisa decided to organize a three week trip to Italy for a group to attend a language school in Florence and to do a little touring during and after the course. While attending the school, the members of the group would stay with a local family who would provide room and board. I decided to go with her and my husband came to Italy to join me at the completion of the course. We stayed another three weeks, touring around and staying with our friends in Bologna and also with my daughter's Italian in-laws in Biella.

This six week trip pushed my Italian to another level, with my comprehension increasing dramatically and I started to read books in Italian.

I will write a separate post about this trip another time, and the two other trips I made with Luisa and her groups. One was to a school in Taormina, Sicily, in 2000 and the other was to Verona in 2002.

When I retired in 1998, I enrolled in the Italian Department at the university to take Italian 300, the third year level course. This was an extremely interesting experience. The professor was woman from Rome, who had been a high school teacher in Italy and tended to be rather authoritarian which did not go down at all well with the young Canadian university students.

There were about 15 or 16 of us in the class, with me, obviously the oldest at 63. However, there was also a German woman, in her early fifties, who had a PhD in Spanish, in the class. Unfortunately, when she spoke in Italian, she threw in masses of Spanish words, which was rather disconcerting to say the least.

It was also interesting to see how the young 21 year olds treated the oldies. To half the students we were invisible, but the other half were friendly enough. Often we were paired up to do some exercise in class and this sometimes caused a bit of a problem.

During this course I learned a lot of advanced Italian grammar and managed to write a paper of 500 words, in Italian, every week, on a topic of the professor's choice. I longed to have a paper returned to me with no red marks, but it never happened. However, I always got an A on the paper and I did well in the Christmas and Final Exams, so I did not disgrace myself thank goodness.

I still take Italian on Saturday mornings, although not every semester. The level of the students' Italian skills can be so mixed that it is very frustrating. Sometimes I enroll and, if the class is pitched at too low a level, I drop out.

My spoken language is problematic, which happens when one only speaks it once a week and goes for months without speaking it at all. However studying Italian has been a great interest for me over the years and it stood me in good stead with my daughter's in-laws, i miei consuoceri , since they do not speak English.

I'll always love the Italian language and one day I hope to return to Italy again to study it further.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Update on Discussion of The Spiral Staircase

The spiral staircase that springs to my mind when I hear those words is the double one designed by Leonardo Da Vinci, seen here, and found in one of the most interesting chateaux on the Loire, Chambord.

Well, I promised you an update on this meeting of the Short Book Club. Firstly, we had all twelve members present, which hasn't happened for quite a while. We had a pleasant dinner together and so it was quite a surprise when the discussion opened on The Spiral Staircase, by Karen Armstrong.

I would say that probably 9 out of the twelve are not religious but what I didn't realize was that at least three or more are anti-religion. Although the majority of the people found the book interesting and were glad to have read it, the discussion was dominated by those who did not enjoy it. In fact, hated it. They were very harsh towards Karen, whom they considered whiney and had no sympathy for her. In fact they didn't want to read about her life at all, although did concede that some of her ideas about other faiths were interesting. Those of us, who did like the book and had empathy for Karen's struggle, as well as finding her ideas interesting, tended to talk quietly amongst ourselves, since we couldn't manage to break into the discussion, where religion seemed to be being blamed for everything.

I sure hope that we don't have another religious book again, because I don't want to go through another evening like that. Funnily enough, we read Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson, in the club some months ago. It's quite a religious book, but it did not provoke the extreme response that I saw last night.

Moving on to the choice for next time we meet, The Highest Tide, by Jim Lynch. I haven't heard of it, but found that it is a novel about a young 13 year old boy, living on Puget Sound, with an intense interest in marine life. One review said: "This beautiful novel is sure to charm readers with its stunning imagery and amazing characters." Now that doesn't sound too controversial, does it?

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Short Book Club -- The Spiral Staircase

Karen Armstrong entered a Roman Catholic convent at the age of 17. As a 24 year old student at Oxford, in 1969, after a near breakdown, she received dispensation from her vows and reentered a changed world. Her time in the convent coincided with a period of tremendous upheaval in the Catholic Church, after the Second Vatican Council, and she was one of the last nuns to be trained under the old system. As she says, " the reforms of the Vatican Council came just too late for me. And I experienced the traditional regime at its worst." In addition, during her time in the convent, she experienced the upheaval and anguish that the older sisters suffered during this period of transition.

She continued her studies at Oxford and underwent psychiatric treatment, but as she said in 2004, in the preface to her book, The Spiral Staircase - My Climb out of Darkness:"I have never managed to integrate fully with 'the world', although I have certainly tried to do so."

This book documents her life after the convent and her struggle to find her place in society, over the twenty four years since she left. Her health was very problematic and finally she was diagnosed with epilepsy, which was the beginning of the solution to her so called "psychiatric problems", in reality her untreated epilepsy. Her struggle to earn a living took her from teaching school, to working in television on documentaries for the Religious Department of the BBC, to finally becoming an author and lecturer on religions other than Christianity, especially Islam.

Along the way, after her loss of faith in God, with her belief in herself as a scholar beaten down by her colleagues, and the failure of her doctoral thesis at Oxford due to ridiculous circumstances, she was introduced to the religions of Judaism and Islam in particular and began to look at how other religions defined the practice of faith.

She met and was profoundly influenced by Hyam Maccoby, a British orthodox Jew, librarian, scholar, dramatist, and expert in the historical Jesus. He told her the story of Rabbi Hillel, a leading Pharisee in the time of Herod, who was approached by some pagans who offered to convert, if he could recite the whole of Jewish teaching, while standing on one leg. He obliged, saying, "Do not do unto others as you would not have done unto you. That is the Torah. The rest is commentary. Go and learn it."

Hyam also told her that in Judaism, belief was not important, theology was not important. He said, "We have orthopraxy instead of orthodoxy." In other words "right practice" rather than "right belief". It doesn't matter what you believe, just do it. This was a turning point for Karen as she continued on her own path to make sense of her life and she began to study other religions and to write about them.

In actual fact, she became the inquiring scholar that she, and others, did not believe she was capable of being. The list of books she has written -- about the Crusades; on St Paul; a History of God comparing Judaism, Christianity and Islam; on Muhammad; Jerusalem; Islam; Buddha -- is extremely impressive, with some being widely read. She leads a solitary lifestyle in pursuing her scholarship, and still considers herself an outsider. Living alone, she spends most of her days in silence, wholly occupied in writing, thinking and speaking about God and spirituality. She believes that she has come full circle, that she has been negotiating a narrow spiral staircase, a reference to TS Eliot's poem, Ash Wednesday. She says she has found a fulfillment that she had not expected. In the last sentence of her book, she declares: "As I go up, step by step, I am turning again, round and round, apparently covering little ground, but climbing upward, I hope, toward the light."

I found this book to be a very satisfying read and I could imagine rereading it without any difficulty. There are many ideas to reflect on and Karen is a very fine writer. It was painful to read about her struggle to fit into a society for which she did not seem to be well suited. However, there were some compelling stories about her personal life in the book, especially the period when she lived with an eccentric family and helped take care of the young mentally handicapped eight year old boy, in return for free board. Her travels in Israel were also extremely interesting. To my mind, The Spiral Staircase is an extraordinarily moving book about one woman's search for meaning and which I can highly recommend.

This book was chosen for the meeting of the Short Book Club, which takes place this evening. At first I intended to include a summary of the discussion in this post but it has become too long. So, if you are still with me, and, if you are interested, check back for my update on the discussion at the meeting, where I will take notes. You will also discover what book we will read for the next meeting.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Saturday Photo Hunt -- Hobby

I joined the Photo Hunters so that I will force myself to learn more about my digital camera. The members of this group post every Saturday, according to a theme chosen by the founder of the group. You can join here. Today's theme is Hobby. So I am posting a quilt I made, probably one of the most satisfying quilts I have ever made. It's illustrating a technique of making a totally reversible quilt, invented by Sharon Pederson, a quilt teacher on Vancouver Island, who wrote a book about this technique and also taught me how to do it in a class. The quilt, with red binding, is black and white on one side and red and black on the other. Please click on the photos so you can see the details of the fabric.

Front or Back, depending on your mood

Back or Front, who can say?

And for fun, one of the many baby quilts I have made, before it left for New York last Fall, for little Kiefer, son of my daughter's friend.

Friday, April 13, 2007

The Lunch Bunch Risks all on Friday 13th

Today the Lunch Bunch, with no fear of Friday 13th, ventured forth to explore a new restaurant. The Walking Group sees this restaurant every Thursday, when we go on the Granville Island walk, and have been intrigued by it. Once we passed by and a waiter was standing outside, enjoying the sunshine. Cheekily we asked to see a menu. He obliged and invited us to come back some time. So today the Lunch Bunch did. It's called Ocean 6 Seventeen, which is its address at 617 Stamps Landing.

The entrance to this small restaurant, with a fabulous view

The view from our table by the window on this rainy day

My choice of entree: crab cakes with mixed salad greens and garlic artichoke dressing, delicious

My dessert: a chocolate ganache torte with mango saffron sherbert

Well despite the rain, we enjoyed lunch which was delicious. We enjoyed each other's company and caught up on what we had all been doing and what we planned to be doing over the summer.

Since we are all members, we'll all see each other again for the Short Book Club meeting on Monday evening.

Thursday Walking Group

Once again, a group of 8 of us walked from the Planetarium parking lot to the Cambie Street bridge, on a relatively warm overcast day. Today I have included some different photos, mostly botanical, shot very hastily as my companions didn't wish to stop and loiter with me. After all, we are out for exercise. I wonder about the focus on the last two, not as sharp as they could be.

A Pieris Japonica in its spring glory at Stamps Landing

I wish I could tell you what this beautiful yellow plant is but I don't know

This condominium complex is called the Lagoons with its own ponds and resident Canada Goose

One of the most interesting spring plants, a type of Euphorbia

A cultivated fern unfolding its fronds

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Truth and Beauty

Ann Patchett is a young American novelist who came into prominence with the publication of her bestseller, Bel Canto, which was when I discovered her. This was her fourth novel and she learned her craft at the University of Iowa's Writers' Workshop. There, in 1981, she met Lucy Grealy, a poet and later, the author of Autobiography of a Face, and they became lifelong friends.

Truth and Beauty is the chronicle of that friendship, a story of Ann Patchett's twenty year devotion to her friend, who died, in 2002, of a heroin overdose, at the age of 39.

My daughter first told me about these two books, which her book club read and discussed as a pair and I filed the information away as, interesting but later.

While on an Alaskan cruise we were on shore, wandering around the small town of Sitka and since I never pass a bookstore anywhere, we went into the local one. Looking around, I noticed that Truth and Beauty was displayed as the choice of one of the store people and I remembered that I wanted to read it, so I purchased it.

Back on the ship, I devoured it in less than a day. I found it a beautifully-written, mesmorizing story of the relationship between Ann, the "hard working ant" as she labels herself and Lucy, whom she calls the "glamorous grasshopper". It is a totally moving and unforgettable book. As I have said before in this book post, this is a book that moved me to tears.

Of course, immediately on our return, I bought Autobiography of a Face and read it. It's a totally different book, relating a similar story, but in a different way. Because I had read Ann's book first I was very sympathetic to Lucy, but when we read them both for the Short Book Club, those who read Lucy's book first were a bit exasperated with her.

At the age of 9, Lucy contracted Ewing's sarcoma and had half her jaw removed leaving her with a deformed face, an inability to eat normal food, even to close her mouth and over her lifetime she endured endless reconstruction operations to try to improve her physical condition.

Lucy came across as one of the neediest people you could ever have imagined. She was unable to be alone, always searching for love and she made some very bad choices because of it. She could also have been accused of using her friends, of whom, luckily, she had a vast number. So that, when she had exhausted the patience of one, there was always another.

But Ann, the straight arrow, was dazzled by this delightful, live-life-to-the-fullest daredevil and she provided a stability and devotion to her friend throughout the next twenty years, as she watched her live her precarious life. She was always there for Lucy, in every situation, displaying love and unwavering loyalty, till the end.

I hope I haven't made these books sound too depressing because they are not. I think that I can say that these books affected me very deeply and I'm very glad that I finally read them. If you choose to follow my example, I would recommend that you read Ann's book first, as I did, although Lucy's was published first. I thought it gave me a deeper understanding of Lucy when I read her book afterwards.

We should all be so lucky as to have such a friend as Ann Patchett was to Lucy Grealey.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

A Place I'd like to Visit

I was tagged for this meme by George, a surgeon in Selayang, Malaysia, who has two blogs. The one I linked is filled with fabulous photos. George would like to visit Egypt.

I have been so fortunate in my life to have travelled around the world and been to many places. There are some places that I have no interest in visiting, or no doubt I would have gone there, but there are two places that I would like to visit, but somehow never got around to it. One is the Galapagos Islands, but now I think that too many people go there, and probably it should be restricted, so as not to spoil it, and I have crossed that off my list. This might apply equally to the other place but I think that it can still handle the traffic it gets.

I would really like to go on Safari to Africa, to Kenya and to Tanzania. I once heard a story about a man who took his wife on a surprise safari for their 25th wedding anniversary. At the time we were a year or so before this and I suggested it to my husband. Since I am the organizer in this family, it never happened. For to have planned it myself, after suggesting it to him, didn't seem right to me. So next month, we will have been married 46 years and I still haven't been. A friend went just last month and said how much she enjoyed it, so I am beginning to consider it again.
For years our whole family have been aficionados of nature programs such as you find on PBS and the Discovery Channel. We irreverently call these programs "things eating other things", for that is the way of the Animal Kingdom, survival of the fittest, at any cost. We never tire of watching them, even the same program again and again.

Now it does worry me that, since these programs are of the highest quality, with fabulous photography, that the reality might be a bit of a disappointment. I am a very big zoo person, and always visit the zoo or aquarium of any city I visit. But I do think it would be very special to go on safari and really see these animals in the wilds.

They talk about the seeing the "Big Five" in Africa. The term was historically used to refer to the five most dangerous animals to hunt, however now it is used to describe the five most popular and exciting animals. What are they, you say?

Black and white rhinoceros
Cape Buffalo

So, since I can't rely on the 'old boy' to plan it, I'll have to start thinking about it myself.

Now I'm not big into tagging people but if anyone likes to take up the baton, even if just to post about where they would like to travel, feel free to do so. If you really want to be part of the meme, copy below as you see.

Title : Where Next ?

Proposition : Where do you want to go Next, OUTSIDE OF YOUR COUNTRY, for tourism, work , study, whatever.

Requirements: Find some info about the place, itinerary etc, pics if possible so you get MORE Traffic coming in, and maybe some people can find somewhere to go to. Excludes your NEXT DOOR NEIGHBOUR, ie Singapore,Malaysia,Brunei, a country that borders yours.You must register for MyBloglog so we can blogwalk ah…..get it?

Quantity : FIVE PEOPLE.

Tag Mode : Chain Link. 15 of them.
You leave 15 people and their DEEP LINK of their Blog Name and TAGGED POST and hit out for five more.

This Singaporean Melayu in Europe aka Azrin going LANSING MICHIGAN. This is a Counter Summon Tag!

Shoppingmum to Europe

Angeleyes off to Bora-Bora

Giddy Tiger snorkelling in The Maldives

Jess to Europe

Mybabybay wants to go Round The World

Samm will go to Japan

Bernard dreams of New Zealand

eastcoastlife of Singapore yearns to go Switzerland

Odysseys of George sets his sails to Egypt.

jmb wants to go on Safari to Kenya and Tanzania

**Add in the blog you got the tag from and tagged post.** (In this case, for example, you should add “Odysseys of George sets his sails to Egypt“).

Extra Rules: you cannot Tag another person who has performed the Tagging Rights to Travel. Check yr commentators.

Exercise effectiveness: You get about at least 100 back links directly to a max of a few Trillion Multi Linked people Track Backing and tagging at ya. That sure will pull yr alexa and Technorati down alot! (it’s 15 times of 5 to the power of 13). It is sure a way to pull down the numbers as I mentioned earlier.

You MUST PASS this tag within 7 days of receiving it , or loose a days worth of Blog Revenue or $10 to charity. Can?Makes it interesting anyway.So no Lazy Tags running about, and yeah, eventually, there will be less than a 1:3 chance you can’t tag that someone. And pay those people in the list a visit, you never know if you can pinch / recycle some ideas for your next entry!

[Started 25th Mar 2007.Do Not Modify this Line.Originated by Geeks Lair SEO Engineering 101 Project ]



Your post must have 3 PARAGRAPHS with at least 200 words. FUN eh?
This is to boost everyone’s ALEXA,PageRank and Technorati.


Sunday, April 8, 2007

Graduation Gift -- Italy (Part III)

After our visit to Padova and Bologna, we were on our way to Siena for the Palio. Now I don't want to repeat myself on the subject of Siena, about which I've spoken in this post, but I hope to add something different for you.

We three Canadians and the three Italians travelled from Bologna to Siena, because Carlo never misses a Palio, if he can help it.

Each contrada or district has its own church and its own museum where they keep all the Palio banners which the contrada has won over the years, as well as other assorted memorabilia related to the celebrated race. On the day of the race, July 2nd, we went first to visit the museum of Carlo's contrada, Istrice or Hedgehog and then waited by the church for the horse to arrive to receive the blessing. Fortunately Istrice was running on this occasion. As I've explained before, only 10 horses can run, so 7 contrade do not take part in any given race. I'm afraid my photo of the horse, covered with his Istrice banner is too blurred to use, but he was dutifully blessed, with the priest exhorting, "Vai e torna vincitore!" Go and come back a winner!

The parade took place in the afternoon and above is my photo of several of the Istrice flag bearers who later put on a wonderful display of flag waving and throwing. Each contrada had a similar group doing the same thing in each district and with the whole town decorated with flags for the occasion it was a very colourful spectacle. My daughter was draped in an Istrice scarf that Catarina had given her and I wore a scarf supporting Montone, the Ram, Catarina's official contrada.

Siena is a walled city and all the contrade are within the walls, however many people do live outside the walls, where Mario and Catarina themselves later moved in order to find a larger apartment. I suppose these people just adopt their favourite to support, for each Sienese is born in their contrada area.

The focal point of Siena is the Town Hall, or Palazzo Pubblico, dwarfed by the bell tower, Torre del Mangia, named after its first bell ringer. The Town Hall fronts the Piazza del Campo, a large semicircular space, formerly the site of a Roman forum. It is paved with brick, in a herringbone pattern, and divided into 9 pie shaped sections. All the main streets of Siena seem to lead into this area. The piazza slopes toward the centre and, for safety's sake, on the day of the race, layers of sand are laid down around the perimeter, where the course is.

After the parade, which took place in the afternoon, the race was run in the early evening. The piazza was filled with screaming fans, who mostly could not see a thing, and that's where we stood for the race, amongst the crowds. The winner on this occasion was Oca or Goose and we streamed after the madly celebrating fans who carried the banner to their church. Here's a not so great photo of the banner, being carried through the crowd.

Now Siena is certainly famous for the Palio, but the tourists do come year around, for the city is filled with many other wonderful things to see.

Within the Palazzo Pubblico, the Town Hall business is conducted, but the upper levels contain the Museo Civico, a wonderful museum which contains frescoes by the finest Sienese painters. Lorenzetti's well known Allegories of "Good Government" and "Bad Government" frescoes are found in this space along with many fine examples of the School of Siena painters.

The unique cathedral of Siena, the Duomo, is also a treasure and considered by many Italy's greatest Gothic cathedral. Its impressive facade of white marble with black and green stripes of stone is often described as zebra like with the bell tower especially giving this impression. The interior is splendid, with its zebra like columns and the pavement is a magnificent array of different techniques of inlaid marble to form various pictures and designs. Due to the hilly terrain the baptistery, with its Baptismal Font, wonderfully carved by Jacopo della Quercia, is built underneath the cathedral and the whole space is exquisitely decorated with frescoes.

There are many other museums and churches to explore in Siena, and like Bolgona, it is often overlooked by tourists who are rushing between Florence and Rome.

One of Siena's most famous citizens was St Catherine of Siena, the patron saint of Italy, and the Sanctuary of Santa Caterina, a group of buildings, which also contains her house, may interest the visitor.

I have probably been to Siena four or five times and I don't feel as if I have exhausted its treasures.

In Part IV of this odyssey we will visit Florence and if there's space, one of my favourite places in Italy, Assisi.

Apologies for my photos, I have to scan them from 23 year old prints and then upload them. Of course the Siena Cathedral and Town Hall photos are from the web.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Thursday Walking -- Granville Island

Today, Thursday, was supposed to be graced with very heavy rain. There was actually talk of cancelling walking earlier in the week. I said, "Let's wait." It turned out to be a fine day really, with part sun and part cloud, and a high of 17 C. Six people for walking and four for lunch at the Pacific Culinary Institute, a cooking school with a small combined bakery/coffee shop which serves a light, delicious, economical lunch.

Today we saw this perfect little saucer magnolia tree on our walk.

One of the flower stalls inside the Granville Island market.

A stall that appears occasionally in the market .

One of the regular buskers who add to the ambiance of the market.

What kind of jam would you like today?

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Graduation Gift --Italy (Part II)

When we left the Venice part of our trip we travelled down to Padova to see the Scrovegni Chapel, La Cappella degli Scrovegni, built by the Scrovegni family in 1300, as part of the family palace, which itself was destroyed in the 1800s. Giotto spent two years totally decorating this space with 36 incredible fresco panels, illustrating the life of Mary and Jesus Christ.

The chapel has tiny windows and it has always amazed me how Giotto could have spent two years painting in this dark space with the lighting of the time.

The chapel was slowly falling into decay until the city took possession in 1881, however a goodly amount of damage had already taken place, both to the building and the frescoes. Restoration was undertaken several times over the next 120 years, latterly in the 1960s, after which we saw it. However, since then, atmospheric pollution has taken its toll, so much so, that in 2000 the chapel was made climate controlled, with an environmentally controlled waiting room. Now only 25 people are allowed inside at one time and tickets must be purchased several days in advance, in person or online. The condition of the frescoes has stabilized and restoration is once again being undertaken.

The chapel contains the most remarkable examples of Giotto frescoes, and to my mind much better than the frescoes in Assisi and in Florence, both of which I saw later, and it was certainly wonderful to see this very special place for the first time.

We continued our journey down to see our friends Carlo and Grazia and their daughter Irene, in Bologna, and we introduced our daughter to the interesting sights of Bologna, about which I've spoken before in this post. Grazia's sister had married shortly before we arrived and the reception had been held at a place called Castel Medalana, outside of Bologna. So, one Sunday, we drove out there to have lunch. It was indeed a small castle and lunch, which included a whole roasted suckling pig, was served outside in the garden among the fruit trees. A young man was our waiter and although he spoke in Italian to Carlo and Grazia, when he heard us speaking English later, he came to talk to us and sat down with us for a while. He had the thickest Liverpudlian accent but Grazia insisted that he was from Bologna because his accent was so pure in Italian. We said, "No Grazia, he sounds just like a Beatle." But she wouldn't believe us. However, he told us that he was from Liverpool and had married an Italian from Bologna. They were separated but he could not leave because he had a six year old daughter so he and some friends operated a restaurant in this historic setting.

Of course we had to visit Siena again for the Palio, which this time we actually saw and I'll talk about that experience in the next post about the Graduation Gift.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Faculty Women's Club Monthly Meeting

This is Cecil Green Park, a lovely old house on the University of British Columbia campus which was given to the University in 1966 to be used for the Alumni Society and it is in this building that the Faculty Women's Club have their club rooms and hold their meetings and many of their social events. You can see it has a wonderful view of the harbour and the mountains, so it is indeed in a prime location.

Every month, between September and April, we meet here in fellowship and to hear a speaker who has been invited to talk to us. Today our speaker was actually the daughter of one of our members, Dr Erin Blake, who is the Curator of Art at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. and also a faculty member of the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia. She has spoken to us before and was a very interesting speaker. Today she chose to speak of the History of Illustration in the Printed Book, using mainly examples from the treasures in the Folger Library. I took notes and am about to tell you a little of what I learned.

Woodcuts or wood block printing began to be used to illustrate printed books in the 15th century in Germany. They were meant to be printed in black and white and then hand coloured. Initially the printing of the text was done first and the woodcut in a second process, consequently they often did not line up quite correctly. In a short time, they began to print the two at the same time on each page. Often spaces were left for hand painted capital letters to be added later, but sometimes the books were sold before completion and only little notations about where some letters were to be placed appeared in the book. Erin used reproductions from a bible, printed in 1483 and in German, to illustrate this, with the bible having 109 different woodcuts.

Woodcuts were very expensive to produce but they were very durable and very valuable so that they would be used over and over and circulated amongst various printers. One of these early books, the Nuremberg Chronicle, which was a History of the World from the Beginning until 1493, when it was printed, contains the same engraving of a city used for 11 different cities, with only the name being changed. Anton Koberger, godfather of Albrect Durer, was the printer. There were actually 645 woodcuts used for 1809 prints, so there were often duplications. Sometimes they used a generic figure for different people although there are some examples of a specific representation. The scene of Noah and the Arc, right, is taken from a Nuremberg Chronicle.

Erin showed us photos of pages of the 1518 publication, in Latin, of Thomas Moore's Utopia, in which the woodcuts had a medieval aesthete. Not only were the illustrations woodcuts but also the printed alphabet of the language, which Moore had invented for Utopia. She also said that the Renaissance style of art was spread by the illustrations in books published in Italy, which is an interesting concept, since books could be moved around from place to place, enabling the ideas to become widespread.

In 1482 the printing of Euclid's Elements was printed for the first time with diagrams, which certainly made the concepts easier to understand. In 1511 appeared the first illustrated edition of the Roman architect, Vitruvius' Ten Books on Architecture, including illustrations of architectural detail, and which influenced the great Italian architect Palladio. An early herbal with illustrations was published in London in 1529, the Grete Herbal, which certainly made it simpler to recognize the plants in the field.

The golden age of woodcuts was in the mid 1500s but they were replaced by copper plate illustrations, a process which provided much more detail, however the two stage method of printing was necessary once more, the text first followed by the illustrations. In addition the copper plates were soft and easily worn down, giving only approximately 1500 good prints although later they improved to 3000 copies.

However at the close of the 18th century the process of wood engraving, which used end grain wood began to be used since it gave the capability of much finer detail and had the advantage of being very durable. This process was invented by Thomas Bewick and his greatest achievement, the wood engravings in his History of British Birds, which is mentioned in Jane Eyre.

An interesting development of this process was used in 1849 by the Illustrated News, the first London newspaper to use this technique. The illustration blocks were made in pieces by many different engravers and then bolted together into a whole for printing. This enabled the illustrations to be made quickly as was required for a newspaper.

Finally in the early 20th century prints began to be made from photos and this gave the ability to change the size of the original and also the ability to achieve a good solid black in a print rather than the uneven black produced by wood engravings.

Now I had five pages of notes from this talk and I hope I have not bored the sox off you. I also hope that I have not made any gross misstatements and that you have found it at least a little interesting. If not, it is my fault, and not the fault of Dr Blake who certainly did make it very interesting for her audience today.