Saturday, June 30, 2007

Saturday Photo Hunt --- Sweet


Well as I've said before I'm the micro manager, always prepared well in advance, so after last Saturday I had already organized my photo for this Saturday. I happened to mention the theme, Fake, to Vijay, a new participant in the Saturday Photo Hunt, over at Scan Man's Notes. Luckily he emailed me and set me straight, "Sweet, this week, JMB." Well thanks to him I'm not making a fool of myself and I now have an extra week to probably change my mind about Fake.

So for the enjoyment of your SWEET TOOTH, here are some delights I found at Granville Island on Thursday with my walking group.

This would look good for St Patrick's Day, don't you think?

Perhaps you would find a fruit flan more to your taste. Enjoy!

This young man is making fudge for the Old World Fudge stall.

Here are the fruits of his labour, if you want to purchase them

If you wish to join the Saturday Photo Hunt or check out the blogroll click on the appropriate spot on my side bar.


Thursday, June 28, 2007


In case you think that I travel only to Italy, which couldn't be further from the truth, I give you the story of two weeks we spent in Japan in 1991.

My husband, the chemistry professor, was invited to take part in an exchange with a professor from the University of Yokohama, at their initiative. He was asked to give a series of lectures over one week to a group of graduate students. Later the professor, K, would come to Vancouver to do the same. Naturally I refused to be left behind, even though I was working, and after arranging holiday leave for me we decided to spend an extra week there, after his course was completed. Since I was paying for my airfare we looked around to find the cheapest fare and found it was offered by JAL, or the Japanese airline company. Funnily enough, when K came to Vancouver he found the cheapest fare by far was on the Canadian airline company.

When we arrived at the Narita airport, outside Tokyo, we were met by K who accompanied us on the very comfortable train journey into Tokyo. There our overnight hotel was very Western, but with the world's smallest bathtub. The next day we were taken to a high rise residence owned by the University of Yokohama where foreign students, mainly graduate students, were able to stay during their time in Japan. We had a very comfortable room there, with meals taken in their cafeteria, and while Alan went to the university each day I began to explore Yokohama.

Before we went to Japan I had briefly looked at a book about elementary Japanese. The wonderful thing about this language is that, like Italian, every letter is pronounced and there is no emphasis placed on any syllable, so it is quite easy to pronounce. Of course I only managed to learn a very few phrases in the short time I had, but I could say hello and goodbye and thank you and bow with the best of them. Of course, as we all know, Japanese is written using Kanji, which are Chinese characters borrowed by the Japanese who had no written language at the time. So when you look at a map, even though you know the street name is pronounced Kanton Road, its Kanji written symbols on the road sign are a mystery to the Western eye.

So there I was in Yokohama, ready to explore the city, but with a map which didn't help much. I had to navigate by going two blocks up one block across and so on. Well you get the picture. I was shown where the places I wanted to visit were on the map by people at the front desk of the residence, then I had to go forward always remembering landmarks so that I could return by travelling in reverse. Well it seemed to work and, although any number of lovely Japanese people, with little English, rushed up and tried to help the lady with map, I basically had to rely on figuring it out for myself. I thought, that since Yokohama is a major port city, there would be many foreigners, as there were in days gone by. But you know, during that week I never saw another Caucasian person around the city.

So let me tell you a little about Yokohama, which is a sister city and sister port to Vancouver. Before 1859 it was a sleepy little village, but on the signing by Japan of the Japan-US Treaty of Peace and Amity, followed by treaties with other nations, the port opened in June of 1859 and since then Yokohama has developed into a thriving city of 3.6 million people. It's the second largest in Japan, after Tokyo, which it abuts and frankly it's difficult to see where one ends and the other begins. Despite being completely destroyed by an major earthquake in 1923 and once again by the bombing during the Second World War it was completely rebuilt both times and remains one of Japan's most most important ports.

Now you didn't think you'd get this trip in one post, did you? No, this is Part I and you'll have to return to hear more. Later. Yes, there will be photos.

Of course the Japanese doll above belongs to me. No, I didn't buy it in Japan. It was a gift from a Japanese graduate student of my husband who came to work with him in the early sixties. Since the Japanese are so polite and nod and smile I don't think he realized for the first six months that she didn't really understand him. Of course by that time, she did. The doll is about 15 inches high and I never could get a glass case for her since she is holding a horse on a stick, which you can't see, behind her. So I dust her every so often with the vacuum attachment, but she'll never be an heirloom, although she is forty years old at least.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

This and That

Online Dating

Mingle 2

This has been doing the rounds on some of the blogs that I read, so I followed the link and found, just as I suspected, I am tame enough for G. In fact, all I scored was one mention of the word "death" . I'll have to jazz things up a bit here in future. I think I should aim for PG at least. After all, everyone should have a goal. Congratulations to Addicted to Medblogs who finally got her blog rated R with this post.

On to another matter. Statistics. I have two counters on my sidebar and they never agree with each other. For the week June 18 to 24th I averaged 111 per day in Sitemeter, while my Bravenet statistics average 71 for the same period. I'm pretty sure it's not me visiting my own site 40 times a day. According to Sitemeter, this week I went over 100 hits in a day for the first time and what's more it continued for the next few days at least. Now I'm not naive enough to believe that everyone is popping over to read what I have to say. In fact I know that most of my hits come through Google searches for Westies. But why the sudden surge in Westie searches? That's what I'm asking myself. But you've gotta love this chart. It makes the little old lady's heart glad, even as her head knows it doesn't mean a thing. I do know that I am now probably disqualified for the best little blogger category in the Blogpower awards. Too bad, so sad. Not really true, James. You know you can't trust statistics and here's the proof.

Nobody Important

Sitemeter Statistics

Bravenet statistics

Day Date Unique Visitors Above/Below
Sunday June 24, 2007 72 +1
Saturday June 23, 2007 64 -7
Friday June 22, 2007 83 +12
Thursday June 21, 2007 77 +6
Wednesday June 20, 2007 79 +8
Tuesday June 19, 2007 71 0
Monday June 18, 2007 55 -16
Average: 71

Next in this series of This and That is an award from a fellow blogger. I have no idea what it means nor where it originated, even after I tried to follow the links, but I am going to use it to introduce you to someone's blog on my sidebar.

This award came to me from Ruth of Me, My Life, My Garden. I've just recently added Ruth to my sidebar because of her lovely garden. It's a relatively small garden but chock full of beautiful flowers. There are no better gardeners in the world than the Brits. They garden in frightful weather and seem to get the best out of whatever space they have. She also takes wonderful photos and keeps another relatively new blog called From a Bee's Eye View, on which she posts lovely close-up photos of flowers and insects. I only recently noticed that she has a total of five assorted blogs, so she's a busy lady.

Ruth and her husband Mick built this lovely garden, but sadly Mick passed away in April after a long illness. So Ruth is bravely carrying on with keeping up the garden and I expect we shall see some very nice photos over the season.

By the way, another English garden that I visit is Mary's, over at Big World ... Small Garden.
Mary just started her blog and not only does she share her garden photos but she visits other gardens and posts about them too.

For the second time I have been awarded the Thinking Blogger award by a fellow British Columbia blogger, Smalltown RN at A Place I call Home. She said some very nice things about me which I do appreciate. She herself is a very proud BC resident and her blog is very enjoyable to read. Her posts cover a variety of topics, personal and otherwise, often nursing or medical related. She raised the topic of elderly drivers in a very interesting post recently, when she was confronted by a dilemma on this issue. I hope you don't mind if I don't pass this award on as only one of the five I passed it on to last time took it up. If you are on my sidebar you keep me thinking.

I think that is all for this post about This and That. It's what I call a blog type post, not my normal output, but sometimes we all need to do this. I hope you were impressed by all that linking. Regular programming will resume in the near future.

Update: Actually I have three stat counters, although one was hidden, but no longer. Last Friday I had these 3 different counts: Sitemeter 121; Bravenet 86; Statcounter 99. Bravenet and Statcounter say they count unique visitors. Well who do you trust? Well what does it matter? Not a jot, just interesting.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Graduation Gift -- Part VI--Conclusion Rome

The first time we had been to Rome was in 1961, for our honeymoon, la luna di miele as the Italians would say. For some reason it took us another 23 years to return and this time with our 17 year old daughter.

Carlo, our Bolognese friend, a research scientist who works for the Consiglio Nazionale di Ricerca or the National Research Council of Italy, travelled often to the head office in Rome. His hotel recommendation was Albergo Venezia, near the main railway station, Stazione Termini, and a clean, well run, relatively inexpensive hotel to boot. So that's where we stayed for a week.

Public transport in Rome was very good, parking was impossible so we had arranged to give up our rental car at Rome. Often we looked out our hotel window and wondered what all the noise was. Triple parking, not ordinary double parking, seemed to be very common in Rome but sometimes the inner car needed to leave before the outer cars. So lots of honking and shouting ensued in order to alert the hopefully nearby drivers of these cars that they needed to move them subito or right now!

The hotel was very close to the main station and there you could catch a bus or take the underground and that's how we got around in this large busy city. We found a rather nice restaurant nearby and most nights we ate there. After the first night, as soon as we entered the door, the waiter placed a carafe of the house vino rosso and a litre bottle of acqua gassata on our table. We didn't even have to ask. We were "regulars".

Looking at my photo album of this trip brings back the reminders of Rome. I can see we spent some time in and around the Basilica di San Pietro or St Peter's Basilica, seen above, with its wonderful square designed by Bernini and the dome of Michelangelo. Inside this most famous building is the pietà of Michelangelo which is now behind glass since it was attacked and damaged in 1972. It also houses the famous 13th century bronze statue of St Peter which has the feet worn smooth due to the many pilgrims who place kisses there. This church is huge in length, width and height and the Bernini canopy which covers the papal altar under the high dome is as tall as a small building itself, standing at 96 feet high.

We passed almost a whole day in the Vatican Museum which had certainly been much improved since our visit in 1961, being much better organized and its treasures better displayed than previously. This tour included the Sistine Chapel which I have always found rather difficult to appreciate. Perhaps now that it has been restored I would find it more pleasing, although one has to appreciate the monumental task this was for Michelangelo. This site of the Papal Enclaves is a huge overwhelming room, rather dark and completely decorated by some the greatest Italian painters of the 15th and 16th centuries. The end wall with its enormous painting of the Last Judgment and of course the very famous ceiling with the Creation of Man were the works of Michelangelo, both of which were completed over different periods of time. The ceiling which is flat, although it gives the impression of being vaulted, took Michelangelo four years to paint. It was very hard on the neck to look up and see these amazing frescoes and the attendants were anxious for the visitors to move along steadily and were constantly trying to keep the crowds quiet, since it is a church after all.

We spent quite a time around the sites of Ancient Rome, including the Colosseum and the Roman Forum with its great temples. Since we had recently watched again the BBC series, I Claudius, with Derek Jacobi as Claudius and Brian Blessed as Augustus Caesar, we went to visit Augustus's tomb, seen here. The ashes of many members of his family, thought to include Claudius, were interred here. It is the largest Roman tomb and sadly it is crumbling away and not open to the public, however I believe there are plans to reopen it in 2009.

One of our most interesting visits on this trip was to a spot was near the Spanish Steps. We went to Keats' house, which is located to the right of the steps and is maintained as a museum to Keats, Shelley, Byron and other Romantic poets. He lived and died there in 1821 and I talked about it here when I posted a photo of the Spanish Steps for Saturday Photo Hunt. We spent several very enjoyable hours there, poking about the treasures and reading the letters. There was no one else there and we made a wonderful leisurely exploration of the museum.

Rome is full of the most beautiful fountains and above you can see the famous Fontana di Trevi, Fountain of Trevi, featured so many times in films. The tradition is if you throw a coin into this fountain you will one day return to Rome. It must have worked in 1961 because here I was again. Remember Three Coins in the Fountain? The other fountain photo is Bernini's Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi or Fountain of Four Rivers, in the Piazza Navona, covered with the ever present pidgeons. It was late afternoon when I took this photo so it's rather in the shadow. Click to improve it a little.

Then it was time to end this month we had spent in Italy and return home. By the time we had returned to Vancouver, my daughter had decided that, in addition to majoring in French for her university degree, she would study Italian. I tried to convince her to take Spanish instead, thinking it would be more useful if she went into teaching. But she was determined and took Italian for two years, only dropping it when she enrolled in French honours and there was no space for Italian. Of course, when she married an Italian, she was able to say, "I told you so!"

I bet you thought you were never coming to the end of this trip to Italy. It only lasted a month, you say. It seemed like years! I hope you found something to interest you as I wrote about one of the trips I have made to my very favourite tourist destination, Italy. Remember the earlier parts of this saga are here, here, here, here and here.

Join me later when I write about my experiences of going to language school in Italy and doing a "homestay" with an Italian family. Not once, not twice, but three times, in three different cities.

I apologize for the spacing problems which seem to be insoluble. What looks fine in the preview turns into a disaster on publishing. Unless I have a brainstorm this is as good as it gets.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Saturday Photo Hunt --- Shiny


I don't have the "eye" for photography. So you will never come by my blog on Saturday and find an artistic photo. But I try to come up with a photo that means something to me, as well as illustrates the theme.

The other day I was in my living room and the sun, streaming through the window, was shining on this brass mortar and pestle. SHINY, I said to myself. They came to me from a dear friend, a professor of pharmacy, who died of a brain tumour 21 years ago. She was the first person I met when I came to Canada forty six years ago and we remained friends until she died. It's a replica of an antique mortar and pestle and the Latin inscription around the rim says:


which means Heinrich Ter Herster made me in 1607

It always strikes me that this is a particularly useless shape for a mortar and pestle but I suppose it worked for the things they did at the time, like pound leaves into powder. The mortars and pestles I used in my career in pharmacy had a very different shape.

If you want to join the Saturday Photo Hunt or you want to view the blogroll click on the appropriate place on my sidebar.


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Excuses, Excuses, Excuses

I seem to have been quite fractured lately with many things on the go. So I apologize for not putting new things on this blog in a timely fashion, as well as not visiting your site as often as I might have liked. As a consolation, here is a photo of the garden outside my front door, in all its glory. The evergreen azalea is past its best with old flowers on it, but the three astilbe and the two different hosta as well as the astrantia are looking particularly fine at the moment. this bed basically does its own thing, with little help from me. Of course I was the one who planted it some years ago and the perennials just do their thing. Hosta and astilbe are two of my favourite plants so you see them everywhere in my garden. This bed is really rather overgrown and needs dividing but dividing hosta clumps after a certain stage is liking digging up concrete. So of course I have been putting it off. I'll probably need dynamite when I finally get around to it.

Enough with the gardening talk, you say. What have you been up to lately? Well I had the hearing before the Board of Review, regarding my house assessment, which I talked about previously in this post. It was scheduled to last for two hours but actually went for four hours. I made my six page presentation, along with my 10 attachments and 6 spreadsheets. Yes I'm the Queen of the Spreadsheets and I'm sure I'm the only one who understood them, despite my detailed explanations and my different coloured columns. They were works of art, let me tell you. Since I was the first appellant to present many people came to watch so I was feeling very nervous. However the defense in this case was the Deputy Assessor, second in charge of the Vancouver and surrounding area office whom I had met before in meetings. He was extremely rude to me from the very beginning so this got my dander up and all my nerves disappeared. In his questioning of me, he was so out of line that even the Board put an end to some of it. I don't think he showed himself at his best in this forum. Will I prevail? Probably not, but I gave it my best shot. The evening before I had been at a Chinese banquet to celebrate a friend's 70th birthday. My fortune cookie seemed particularly appropriate, so, at the end of the summary I made, I read it out to the Board.


I said I hoped that I had persuaded them to my point of view with my presentation and the Chairman of the Board said, that, as was said in the movie, A Few Good Men, he thought they had picked on the "wrong marine". Unfortunately other factors may well prevail.

Of course, this process is still ongoing for others and I had to present a report on the subject to a meeting last night and all kinds of people are phoning and requesting information or help. I give any information I have and I help if I can, but I can't always. It goes on for another week I believe and then we await the judgment.

A very happy outing occurred in the past week. I've posted about the Thursday Walking Group many times. Some of our members are getting quite elderly and no longer walk with us. One of our members, a delightful 87 year old from Yorkshire, England, had sold her house and moved to an "assisted living" home, outside the city, to be near her daughter. So 9 of us drove out to take her to lunch and she was so happy to see us and show us her new "home", a two bedroomed apartment, which is very nice. She is such a delightful lady, with a wonderful sense of humour and we miss her. When it came time to drive back there were a lot of tears shed, let me tell you. Look at that lovely face and her wonderful smile.

Tomorrow at walking, we have joining us another former member of the group. She no longer walks with us because her knees are basically destroyed. She has been using a manual wheelchair but now has acquired the Cadillac of motorized wheelchairs so will be whipping along with us. We try valiantly to keep up with her. She's been coming for the last two weeks because she lives near Granville Island, which is our most common walk. Trust me, we are puffing along trying to keep up and we have to take it in turns to lead the way with her.

Well there you have it. Sorry it's not more interesting. Life in the retired lane.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Father's Day

First of all I'd like to wish all the fathers a very happy day today. My daughter has telephoned her father from New York where she is celebrating the day with her four year old daughter's father. My son is coming for dinner so my husband has not been forgotten on his special day.

Today I've seen a lot of tributes to fathers on people's blogs. I have found it quite delightful to read some of these special pieces and see the strong bonds that were forged between some people and their fathers; bonds that are remembered even long after they have died.

I am always envious when I hear others speak so delightfully of the relationship they had with their fathers. For this was not my reality.

I felt I hardly knew my father. He went to work for long hours as a machinist for the railway department and when he was home he spent all his time in our garden which was his pride and joy, but of little interest to me. My parents should have been divorced but that was not possible for monetary considerations I suppose. Today's expression which would best describe our family was "working poor". So because of practical reasons I guess, I interacted more with my mother than with my father. The one thing for which I am forever grateful to him is that he insisted that I complete my schooling to the highest level. So I matriculated and later attended university.

When I was 17, my father, who came from Scotland to Australia as a child, at age 48, suffered what was then called a nervous breakdown. In actual fact he fell into a deep clinical depression and was institutionalized. Funnily enough, during this time we became closer, as I visited him every week. The year was 1953 and no antidepressants were available and the only treatment was electric shock treatment which was not administered in the safe way and for the short period of time, as it is now. My father was terrified of it and he was given this treatment on and off for six months. Finally he could no longer endure it and he drowned himself in the river which ran through the institution's grounds. This was December 11th, 1953, so Christmas was a rather painful celebration for my mother, brother and myself for quite a few years.

Mostly I don't think about my father very much, after 53 years. I don't even have a photo of him and no one is still alive who remembers him. Not even my brother. But lately I have been thinking about him and trying to get up courage to write about this. Today seemed like the right time for it, although I don't want to put the damper on the celebration of the day. But it is the day to remember your father, even if he is no longer with you.

So today, as the card above says, I am thinking about my father, despite the fact that it is a rather painful memory. I have always hoped that he achieved in death the peace that he was not able to find in his life.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Saturday Photo Hunt -- Hair



I had a lot of trouble coming up with something for this post. My assumption was that I would probably have to pass this time. I actually took my camera to the hairdresser's, when I had a hair cut during the week, thinking I would take a photo of a wig in for service or the huge array of products for the beautification of hair. Still not inspired. Then this idea came into my mind.

So here you are folks, my hair when I was twenty one: short but lovely, full, shiny, curly, coppery brown. Even if I do say so myself.

Fifty years later: still short but wispy, fine, almost straight, washed out grey.

I can't believe I'm actually putting up a current photo of the little old lady, but I'm still anonymous, right?

If you wish to join Saturday Photo Hunt or view the blogroll, click on my sidebar at the appropriate place.

A very Happy Weekend to you all

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Eight Random Things about Me

I've been tagged by Ian over at Failure is the Key to Success. I don't usually do memes unless they appeal to me and so I suppose this one did. It's hard to imagine that I haven't already told you everything about myself that I am willing to share with the world at large. Maybe I might be repeating something that I have already posted about, so please forgive me if you've heard any of these before.

Of course there are rules which I will post here then proceed to ignore later.

1. Players start with 8 random facts about themselves.

2. Those who are tagged should post these rules and their 8 random facts.

3. Players should tag 8 other people and notify them they have been tagged.

Now for the random facts about me, jmb, nobody important as you can see.

1. I always wanted to be an expert on something. You know, the one they telephone from the newspaper or radio, asking you to give your expert opinion about this or that. Can I quote you on that? Of course! Only too happy to be of assistance, I would say confidantally.

2. I came to live in Canada for 2 years with my husband, intending to return to Australia after that. 46 years later we are still here. In fact I've lived here almost twice as long as I lived in Australia, but I'll always be Australian, only now I'm a proud Canadian too.

3. I'm a dog person and I've had four dogs in my lifetime: a Heinz 57 black mutt, a golden cocker spaniel, a miniature schnauzer and a west highland white terrier, all of whom lived to be 14 or 15 years old. Sadly, I don't have a dog since my last one died, since I'm not sure I have another 15 years left myself.

4. I can swim but I can't put my face under the water, because I was knocked out momentarily in the surf when I was a child and came to under water. But I love being out on the water in a boat, small or large and I have to live near the sea.

5. I'm a pack rat, for I hardly ever throw anything out, but just move things from here to there. Luckily I have a big house. This also explains my 75 pairs of shoes, some more than 20 years old.

6. I buy more books than I can keep up with and my to-be-read-pile grows higher and higher and wider and wider. I also keep 99% of my books so I am drowning in books as well as stuff. However I don't read Science Fiction or Fantasy.

7. I am teetotal, but no one else in my family is and I serve wine and liquor to everyone else. I am always the designated driver. No I'm not an alcoholic. I always worry that people will think that when I say I don't drink alcohol.

8. I always wanted to learn the violin when I was a child but there was no money for a violin or lessons. It is still my favourite musical instrument, while my all time favourite musical piece is Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. I imagine myself, dressed in a long red satin evening gown, performing in the concert hall, with the orchestra, this wonderful piece for your enjoyment. Well I can dream, can't I?

Gosh I'm boring! I thought I would have trouble with this meme but when I got going I even had a few spares.

I won't officially tag anyone else but if you are reading this post and want to take up the challenge, knock yourself out.

The interesting art piece, The Violinist, is by Richard Wolf and found in the East Connecticut University Library.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Graduation Gift -- Italy (Part V) Assisi and Umbria

For this, my 100th post I am returning to the trip we made with my daughter to Italy, in 1984, just after she graduated from high school at age 17. It's so long since I posted about this trip I feel quite embarrassed. If you need to catch up you can find the first post here, second here, third here and fourth here.

Carlo, our Bolognese friend, told us that we shouldn't go to Assisi, because it was too commercialized. He was quite adamant about it, definitely not Assisi. Instead we should go to Spoleto, where he had spent part of his National Service training, long ago, but obviously he still had great memories of it. Well sorry Carlo, but we were definitely interested in visiting some of the hill towns of Umbria and we thought we might stay at Assisi, as a base. So off we went in our car.

Assisi is a walled city which has changed little since the Middle Ages. It is set on the slopes of Monte Subasio and, as you drive along the road towards it, it is a splendid sight indeed. The first thing you see is the huge monastery stretching out alongside the hill. When you arrive at the foot of the city you find a huge parking lot for the buses which bring the hordes of tourists each day to visit the birthplace of Assisi's most famous son, San Francesco or St Francis. The streets of the town are narrow and not car friendly however we had arranged to stay at the Hotel Giotto, not far from the two storeyed Basilica di San Francesco, and fortunately with a small parking lot as you can see.

Our room was overlooking this splendid view and we settled in to visit this lovely old town. There are few hotels in Assisi and most of the tourists who visit are day tourists. However, to our hotel, every evening, different tour groups came to spend the night. The women all rushed out to check out the shops, which remained open until 9pm. The men all rushed to the bar to have a drink, for it was surely rather hot. They ate late in the dining room and after a really early breakfast they were gone again. Most of the day tourists clustered around the Basilica di San Francesco at the entrance to the town, and the rest of the town went on peacefully with daily life. Of course we visited all the sites in the town, and took our car to visit some of the surrounding hill towns, like Gubbio, Perugia, Cortona and Orvieto, a little farther afield.

Then we thought we should go to Spoleto to satisfy Carlo. However we had not realized that it was the time of Spoleto's most famous music, opera and dance festival, the Festival of Two Worlds, held annually and which gathers together musicians and artists from all over the world. We could only find a room in a Motel Agip, outside of Spoleto.

The crowds in the town were horrific, we had no tickets for any event, so after one night we asked the hotel desk clerk to telephone to the Hotel Giotto in Assisi and ask if we could return. Thankfully they had a room and we returned there and were given a beautiful room with a balcony this time, overlooking the wonderful view. I think the desk clerk at the Hotel Giotto was delighted that we had loved Assisi enough to return and for the next four days he left us in our very special room and accommodated the one-night-only tourists around us, pretending that we were part of the different tour groups to justify us having this special room. Or so he told me.

So what makes Assisi so special? Well of course the wonderful location on the side of the hill and some very special old buildings are part of it. The Basilica consists of a lower church built in 1228 to 1230 and an upper church built between 1230 to 1253. Some of the most important frescoes in Italy are contained in this basilica, especially the ones depicting the life of St Francis by Giotto in the upper church and many others including some by Cimabue. In the crypt, below the lower church is the tomb of St Francis, only discovered in 1818, but now open to everyone, with displays of articles used by St Francis. Sadly the basilica was heavily damaged by an earthquake in 1997 and remained closed until 1999. However we were there in 1984 so only the passing of time and perhaps earlier tremors had aged the basilica.

One of the highlights of our visit was to attend mass there. All the Italian masses were held in the upper church but there was an English mass in the lower church. When my daughter and I arrived (my husband is not Catholic), we found there were ten Franciscan priests on the altar and six people in the congregation. We six all huddled together in the front row, as if intimidated by this large church. Some of the mass was sung, with the priests singing some parts and we six singing the responses. The acoustics in the church were unbelievable and we sounded like a choir of angels echoing in that huge space.

Another church we liked in Assisi was the church of Santa Chiara, St Clare who was an ardent follower of St Francis. The beautiful church, with its lovely view of the countryside, was constructed in 1257 from pink and white marble quarried from Mount Subasio. It was built over the older church of San Giorgio where St Francis was buried until the construction of the basilica. In the crypt are the remains of the body of St Clara, displayed in a glass case, and when the church is open there is always a nun sitting reading quietly by the body. This absolutely fascinated my then 17 yr old daughter. In Vancouver, we attended a very ecumenical catholic church. Our priest, a professor and intellectual himself, was chosen to minister to the University community and the congregation rented the use of an Anglican church on campus. We alternated services on Sunday, two of each denomination. So we had none of the usual trappings of a catholic church and she had never been exposed statues of saints everywhere and candles lit in holders before statues in side chapels. She was mesmerized by St Clara, with her nun attendant. We talked about this the other day and she laughed. She said that she had heard that the body is mostly held together by plastic now.

So we spent these few extra days in Assisi, a place that we really liked and watched the tourists come by the busload and depart again. We explored the little streets and the wonderful stores, filled with pottery and linens embroidered in the special Assisi style. I bought a lot of beautiful Italian paper goods from a stationery store, some of which I still have to this day. We ate in the different little trattorie around the town and all in all enjoyed this place to its fullest.

Next time I post on about this trip it will be about our return to Rome, after 23 years.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Saturday Photo Hunt -- Shoes

If you have read my previous post about The Shoes in my Life, you will know that I own about 75 pairs of shoes. This is because I never throw any of them out. All belong in the category of sensible shoes! I keep them all in their boxes and they are the only thing in my life that is relatively organized.

I especially love the use of velcro on shoes and sandals because I am a type A personality so don't want to spend time lacing laces or unbuckling straps. So this week I purchased these for the summer. Extremely comfortable! Manolo Blahniks they are not, but they suit me just fine.

I'm sorry I couldn't think of anything brilliant to do with shoes. I am looking forward to see what people will do with hair next week, right now I can't imagine anything.

If you wish to join the Saturday Photo Hunters or see the Blogroll for it, click on my sidebar.

Have a very Happy Weekend

Thursday, June 7, 2007

The Perfect Japanese Maple

I have lived in this house for 30 years. Consequently I have rather an established garden, well perhaps you should read overgrown for established. But the one thing that I have never been able to grow without eventually killing, or perhaps just not nurturing enough to keep alive, is a Japanese maple.

These are my very favourite trees and I have spent a small fortune on this endeavour over the years. I have tried big expensive ones which will look good in a short time; small ones which will grow nicely into lovely trees eventually; cutleafed ones which are my very favourite ones; red ones which adorn everyone's garden it seems, except mine; even green ones, which are said to be easier to grow than red ones. But after a couple of years, when they look as if they are going to make it and I am beginning to get hopeful, they get "dieback" on one branch, then another, until finally I rip the skeleton out and try again. I have tried them in containers where they flourish for a few years, then as soon as I get them into the ground, disaster!

But I never give up. I'm going to show you some of my current endeavours here and finally my solution to this problem. Above and right, these are two Japanese cutleafed maples, spending their third year in containers.

I ran out to find out the names of them from the tags but unfortunately they have faded off. Of course I wrote the names down in my gardening diary like Vita Sackville-West. Afraid not! I haven't kept a gardening diary in twenty years. Actually it wasn't even a diary as such. I used to have a card system for my plants, with a little fichier or file box to keep them in. All the Latin names and the common names, all the requirements to keep them healthy, shade or sun, actual location in the garden, pruning instructions if needed. You get the general idea. Very organized. Well life happened and that fell by the wayside.

Above, one of the bigleafed green ones, bravely struggling on, name also unreadable but it has beautiful fall colour, a gorgeous brilliant red. It has lost its leader to "dieback" and now leans over the grass which makes the "old grass cutter" mad. It looks as if he needs to cut the grass from this photo. Too much golf and not enough gardening. Well this is his only gardening duty, as he massacres everything in the beds, probably on purpose so he won't be asked to do anything. He's no fool, you know.

One day, about fifteen years ago or so, I purchased this signed framed silkscreen of a red Japanese maple by a local artist, done in a delicate Japanese style. Sure, it cost about four times the most expensive maple I had ever bought, until that time. But there was no way it could die on me.

I haven't completely given up hope that one day I will have the perfect Japanese maple tree in my garden, but I'm not holding my breath. Do you think I have a hex on me?

Monday, June 4, 2007

Another Art Purchase Story

For the last Saturday Photo Hunt, I told you the story of my beautiful Swans sculpture and how I acquired it during an Art Appreciation Group outing. As I said, this was not the only time I have purchased something while gallivanting about the local art scene so I thought I would tell you about another of these occasions.

The convener of the AAG had arranged for us to visit a show of a young woman's paintings in a gallery in the downtown eastside. This gallery was run by a mental health group and all the artists showcased there had suffered mental health problems. The young woman artist was present and she told us about her paintings which were very modern, but interesting. She had also arranged, especially for our group, a modern dance performance by a friend of hers who danced her interpretations of the paintings on display, using various masks as props. Now I know this sounds extremely weird, but in actual fact it was delightful and the twenty or so ladies present were very appreciative that these two young women had come out on that afternoon to talk to us and entertain us.

The young artist explained that the paintings were on sale, using the silent auction format, which I am sure you are all familiar with. Each painting has a minimum reserve bid and you write your name and bid down, one below the other and the highest bidder is the purchaser. No one else made any attempt to bid on anything but as so often happens, I was struck by guilt that these women had given up an afternoon for us with no return except our appreciation. Among the paintings was this ceramic, mounted on painted wallboard and framed. She called it Pomegranate and you can see the woman's head is encased inside a pomegranate with seeds in her hair. The paintings were all the wrong colour for my house, mainly with lots of blue which I detest. So I bid on the ceramic and a week or so later I received the "good news" that I was the successful bidder. I did not care for the colour of the original background and I asked her if she could paint it another colour and she agreed. Several days later, I took my husband with me to go pick it up from the gallery. I asked him along because the area is so seedy and full of really down and out people that I was a bit nervous to go alone. I told him that when we went into the gallery and he saw my "purchase" he was not to say a word! He was perfectly well behaved and we chatted with the young woman, I paid for my purchase and took it home. I think he understood why I had bought the ceramic although he frankly didn't like it, as he told me later.

Temporarily I took down a painting by the fireplace in my living room and hung the ceramic on the wall where, somehow, it has remained for the past few years, as you see here. A Della Robbia it is not, but I can tell you, it certainly is a conversation piece.

I call it my "donation to charity" art purchase and although it is not beautiful like my Swans, it shares a place in the very same room. The painting beside it is an Australian scene by my sister-in-law and it reminds me of my youth.

Does it look like a setting from Home and Garden magazine? I think not. But almost every piece in the room has a story that has meaning for me. What more can you ask of your home?

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Interpersonal Intelligence -- I don't Think So!

I found this fun sort of quizz over at Vijay's site, called Scan man's Notes. His profile was perfect and I wanted to be just like that. Linguistic Intelligence, what more could you ask? So what was mine? Ugh! I sound like a slimy car salesman. Well some of it is OK, I guess. I like to think I'm empathetic. I had to think so many times before making a choice of answers that I am sure I could get a completely different profile any number of times. But here it is, make what you will of it.

Your Dominant

You shine in your ability to relate to and understand

Good at seeing others' points of view, you get how
people think and feel.

You have an uncanny ability to sense true feelings,
intentions, and motivations.

A natural born leader, you are great at teaching
and mediating conflict.

You would make a good counselor, salesperson,
politician, or business person.

Here's Vijay's profile below. I don't think he quite believes it either. He's a radiologist in India and none of the professions suggested.

Your Dominant Intelligence is Linguistic Intelligence
You are excellent with words and language. You explain yourself well.

An elegant speaker, you can converse well with anyone on the fly.

You are also good at remembering information and convicing someone of your point of view.

A master of creative phrasing and unique words, you enjoy expanding your vocabulary.

You would make a fantastic poet, journalist, writer, teacher, lawyer, politician, or translator.

How would you like to trade Vijay? Nor would I, if I were you.
Try it out, it's another time-wasting bit of fun. Maybe you'll like your result.

I aplogize for the spacing. I've tried and tried. Best the old lady can do!

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Saturday Photo Hunt -- Art


This beautiful sculpture belongs to me. It is carved from Brazilian soapstone, stands 16 inches tall and is called Swans. Of course there is a story attached to how I acquired it.

I belong to a group called the Art Appreciation Group and our convener arranges once a month visits to any interesting exhibits nearby, or visits to art galleries for shows or even visits to artists homes and studios.

On one occasion, some years ago, we were visiting a splendid mixed media gallery in White Rock, which is a community about 40 minutes away from Vancouver. Some of us had carpooled so I was the driver of four other women and the whole group were to lunch together later. After the owner had spent an hour or so conducting us around the gallery and highlighting some of the pieces in detail, the group were preparing to leave. I asked about this piece again and then said that I would take it, proffering my credit card. The owner was delighted she had made a sale but the reaction of the group was incredulous. Now the price on this piece was $700, not cheap but not out of line with the size and work and frankly the beauty of it. Everyone said: " What will your husband say?" Huh? What has he got to do with this? I like it, it's my credit card, I will buy it.

Well over lunch this was a hot topic of discussion. Then on the way back in the car they continued, so that by the time I got home I was getting nervous myself. A was off somewhere when I arrived so, since I knew exactly where I wanted to put it, on top of a buffet style drinks cabinet in our living room, I hastily arranged it to its best advantage. When A arrived home I rushed him to see it and asked: "Do you like it?" Of course, he did, what's not to like, it's beautiful. So all's well that ends well.

But I do have a reputation with this group. You see it's not the only time I've bought something, this was just the first time.

If you wish to join the Saturday Photo Hunt or view the group's Blogroll click on the appropriate place in my sidebar.