Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Year's Eve

     I'm sure you thought that you were going to see a fireworks photo again.  Instead you got my old desk and the antique Nebraska post office sorting-cabinet sitting heavily on top of it.

      When I woke up this morning I was mulling over New Year's past.  I've been around for so many of them.  Extra in fact, because Baha'i's celebrate the first day of our calendar, Naw Ruz, which falls around the spring equinox.  I was wishing that I had kept a better record of those yearly intentions and that made me think of the Nebraska post office cubbies.  In the day of handwritten notes and letters, I would have thought we kept better track of our intentions.
      The cubbies in the post office cabinet look pretty empty in this photos, but I had just switched desks and had taken everything out of the them.  The desk is a sign that this past year there were a few movable parts in my life.  The desk was donated to The Kids' Place twenty-eight years ago when I helped get the school started.  It represents hours of intentions.  When I retired this year, I was gifted the desk.  I've had the post office cabinet for ten years or so and love stuffing it with letters, maps, cards and photos.

     Not one cubby hole in the cabinet is the same size.  I know that the cabinet came from a little town.  So little that it apparently didn't have a cabinet maker.  (I maybe even went through that town during the drive through Nebraska.  There were lots of places that would have qualified.)  Someone made this cabinet with a simple intention, executed with little measurement and even less skill.  The cabinet served it's intention for decades through wars, farm sales, baby and wedding announcements and letters announcing death.

     When I think about New Year's past I know that I made intentions and mentally made lists of accomplishments.  I am going to infer that my intentions served me well enough most of the time, even if the execution was sometimes less than perfect or didn't measure-up to what I was going to do that year.

    So here is my New Years intention about list-making.   During a particularly stressful time in my life, I made lists at the end of the day.  Not for what I was going to do the next day, but what I had done that day.  I would then proceed to check off everything on the list, knowing that it was all done.  The exercise was a most satisfying way of looking at life.  I think that from now on I'll not make New Year's intentions, but make New Year's lists.. for last year's doings and check them off carefully, measuring well with hindsight.

Happy New Year list-making to you all.  



Sunday, December 29, 2013

Ending the Year with Music and Art

     Traveling brings such unexpected blessings.  The last few days have brought a few.  My hostess at my Airbnb home has friend who is a DJ.  She is charming and funny.  Rebecca, the DJ, interviews Canadian musicians throughout the year.  Her last show on CJLO 1600 for 2013 was comprised of her favorite top twenty five songs from the Commonwealth.  Rebecca invited us to come to the studio and listen (being ever so quiet).  So here is a shot of the studio on the air.

       The number one song that she choose was "Heart of Gold" by Groenland, a band from Montreal.  Here is a link to that song:  http://groenland.bandcamp.com/track/our-hearts-like-gold  If you don't do anything else before closing this blog, do listen to that song!

       Our household is celebrating New Year's Eve a little early, so tonight there was a gathering with friends.  Counted among us were three from the United States, a charming couple from Columbia and a Scotsman.  Two of us from the States were the only ones not living in Montreal.  After a dinner of sushi and salmon pie, Findley MacDonald slipped out his guitar and played  and sang to us a round Irish-Scottish songs.  I'm amazed to come to a mostly French speaking city and be entertained by a Scotsman!

      Findley had also brought a mandolin and played more songs for us.

   Earlier in the day I hadn't meant to go to an art exhibit; I was on my way to the library.  However this not an ordinary library.  The name is the Library of the National Archives of Quebec.  This is a photo from the foyer.  The library is quite new and built above the major Metro station of Montreal.

      Just to the right of this photo is a hallway that leads to a quiet little coffee shop or down to a large art gallery.  Later I noticed an auditorium and another exhibit area inside the library.  I had come to do some genealogy research  at the library both on Gary's family and also for a friend.  However walking down the hall, I noticed an exhibit.  The art exhibit introduced me to an artist that I should have heard about before.
         Rene Derouin left Canada for Mexico when he was 19.  His father and his brother had both drowned in the St. Laurence River.  All around him he saw French Canadians looking for inspiration in France.  He wanted to go somewhere else to gain a new perspective.  For fifty years he spent time in Mexico and in Canada.  While in Mexico City he experienced a near death episode in a massive earthquake.  Out of the experience he began making small sculptures of figures, as though they had just stepped from the mud evolving into humans.  He made 20,000 of these, no two alike!

     When all were done, exhibited, filmed, reviewed, and then stored, Rene could not forget them.  One day he decided to return them to the mud and water.  With his wife and a friend they loaded a huge box containing the 20,000 sculptures onto a boat and carried them to the center of the St. Laurence River.  From earth and water we arise and we return to mud and water.  As Rene threw all of the sculptures into the river, he said he felt liberated.  Liberated from the tragedy of his father and brother and a literal liberation from the weight of the 20,000 sculptures.

     Do look up his art.  Incredible piece after incredible piece.  The ones in the mud and river you will have to imagine.

     Montreal spends 60 million dollars on snow removal per year!  A student at McGill University made a tall tale of this story.  A link to this creative endeavor is to be found here:  http://www.mcgill.ca/files/architecture-theory/Evans.pdf   Take a moment, if you are curious, and look up Montreal snow removal on You Tube to see how snow is removed.  

Friday, December 27, 2013

Bouncer on Boxing Day

     Boxing Day is celebrated in a number of countries across the world.  In Great Britain the day after Christmas was traditionally the day in which servants were given the day-off and a box containing gifts and sometimes left-over food to take to their families.  More recently it is the day to box-up the things that you no longer need to give to those in need.  And the day to shop huge sales.  Canada, however, has a very civil policy of not allowing stores to open until noon without incurring a stiff penalty.  Some parts of Canada even ban selling anything the day after Christmas.

     I am traveling very lightly and don't need much, so venturing out on Boxing Day to shop wasn't a necessity.  However, I intended to do a bit of exploring.  I haven't ridden a bus yet, so I made plans to start my day figuring out how to get to downtown the slower way.  I choose as a destination, Word.

      In this ostentatious world of ours, it is unusual to find a shop without a sign.  Word has no sign.  The shop had an inauspicious beginning when the owners first began selling books out of the back of their Volkswagon van crossing northern Canada.  The two McGill students then sold books from their living room holding poetry readings on occasion.  In 1975 they opened this tiny shop.  It remains the same.  No cash register, computers or cell phones.  The sign apparently fell off and just never was replaced.  The store had hours posted, but happily it was closed for Boxing Day.

     I had stopped to photograph a building across the way before realizing that I was standing in front of my destination.  I'll be back!

     As my bus traveled towards the city I neared the huge Mount Royal Park.  Houses began to look more regal.  This row of houses in this photo are across the street from Word.  The roof style is called French mansard.  The design allowed for an extra floor with a lower ceiling, but with windows.  These floors became known as "garrets".  The French and Scottish, who populated early Montreal, brought the house styles of home with them.

     Scottish?  With everyone speaking French, it is a surprise to see Scottish names.  Down the block from Word, I came across the campus of McGill University.  Here was the sign facing me!  Gary's family was here!

    Around the corner of the next building were the MacDonald's (McConnell's are actually a branch of MacDonald's) and one block further the McCord Museum!  Macs abound here!

    The McCord was open, so I made arrangements to come back and do a little research for a friend another day.  When I browsed the McCord bookstore, I was looking for anything related to my friend's family.  I found something!  A book on famous Quebec families included her relatives!  Now to translate it to English.  Kara will help me today.

     Around the corner from the McCord is President Kennedy Avenue.  His name in any location reminds one of his untimely death and his much admired persona.

    Now for the Boxing Day Experience.  Montreal's central population is approximately two million people.  The density makes having malls downtown practical and underground malls with this weather more practical.  I entered an attractive older department store and then began to wander.  Taking an escalator down in any store brought me to wide hallways branching off in every direction lined with stores and jammed with people.    Occasionally one would come to a four or five story atrium like the one in this photo.  



     Here is the same atrium different view.  The sculpture is constantly changing colors.

       Somewhere near this atrium there is an ancient stone cathedral.  A few years back the cathedral was raised and supported on columns while a mall area was extended underneath it.  A consecrated mall?

   When I spotted the bouncer, I was so pleased.  Mind me there were crowds everywhere, but the longest check-out line that I had seen all day and the only store with a bouncer were a bookstore and a music store!  The arts rule!



     One wall of this atrium had interesting pictures many of them were of sidewalk art.

      I'm not sure that I would often wander malls even in Montreal, but the experience was worth the walk.  I at least appreciate a mall experience in which the majority of the customers left their cars (if they even have one) at home.  There were many small shops, not necessarily brand name shops.
 Outside I circled a few blocks.  The city is quite the sight in winter.
 After walking for about six hours, I was pretty tired.  On the way home I stopped at our local sushi shop.  This was dinner.  Delicious, delicious and delicious.  I'm not sure that I have ever been so tempted to lick a plate.

     Another day in the paradise of Montreal.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Sunny December 24th from Montreal

Lily, our sweet house cat, waiting for birds on a sunny December 24th

My Closest Catholic Church

     My first sunny day in Montreal was today, December 24th.  I have been looking forward to today.  I have plans to go to Christmas Eve Mass.  I am not Catholic, but find the service a joyous spiritual event.  Last year in London I walked a few blocks to attend the Mass, arriving to a standing-room only service.  I'm not sure what to expect this year.  As I have walked about the last few days I have noted so very many churches.
     Yesterday, I could see the large city park with it's frosted trees climbing the hill.  I headed in that direction only to be way-laid by the Cathedral Marie- Reine of the World.  The grey stone bulk from the backside beckoned me.  I plowed through a narrow path along the side wall and without looking up, I entered the heavy front door.  This cathedral was modeled after Rome's St. Peter.  I was stunned.
     On two columns inside were the names of the early parishioners.  Some names were French and some Scottish.  If faith could be translated into some measure of architecture, their faith was enormous.


     Looking back after leaving the Cathedral, I took this photo.  I think it
conveys the complexity of Montreal.  You can just see the Cathedral dome and the statues on top of it's facade... that is if you can look past that truck flashing video advertisements.  The building to the far left was filled with banks and financial companies.  The solid design of grey stone of the financial building fit well with the Cathedral's.  Odd though money facing faith.  

         Another church attracted my attention today.  The sunny weather seemed a great day for photos, so I set out to the market intending to look for good photos.  I passed the market where I intended to buy some meat for Christmas Day to get closer to an interesting church.  As I slipped around the corner, cannolis came into view! 

     My friend Todd loves cannolis.  The ones that we have had in Washington and Oregon never quite live up to the ones that he remembers from New York.  These, Todd, I am sure would meet your standards.  I slipped inside thinking that I might get one.  The line was long.  I didn't stay, but vowed to return.  I took a few more photos as I slipped out.  Anyone want a little cake or sweets shipped your way?

Little Fruit Candies
      I continued on intending to cross over to any road that I have not yet walked.  A few blocks away I turned to see old buildings with canopies as far as I could see.  The St. Hubert Plaza was a creative way to turn a stretch of old shops into a reasonably-protected shopping area.  Both sides of the streets were covered in the same style of canopy.

    The first block of shops were filled with wedding dresses.  A bride would have had many choices.  Jewelry stores, kitchen shops and house decor shops complimented the bridal shops.  
    I may have neglected to mention that the temperature on this sunny day of walking was about 10 degrees at the warmest.  I didn't have anything to purchase, but just  kept warm by ducking into a shop here and there.  Two particularly beautiful book stores kept me warm.
    The first store had wonderful displays of children's books.  All of them in French.  I was happy to see a collection of Ernest and Celestine books.  If there is a child in your family, any of these books about a little mouse and big bear would charm them.

  Heading back home I came across this snow plow loading a semi-truck.


     I can't explain why I find these snow removal systems so fascinating.  While I watched, this plow filled three semi-trucks.  The semi-trucks just keep rolling up one after another steadily.  I left before another one appeared.
    (Notice the church spire.  This was the sixth church that I had seen today.)

    Almost home with this view.  Another 10,000 steps today.  At this corner I turn right.  Earlier in the day there was a plow here trying to make parking a little easier.  Most cars are just backed into a three-sided snowbank like that suburban on the left.


    I'm not really shaking... it is just the window.  However, if you crossed my path, you likely wouldn't recognize me.  That neck gator is usually over the nose!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

A 10,000 Steps Day


  In the 1980's research in Japan proved that by walking 10,000 steps per day one could maintain good health.  2,000 steps is one mile, so five miles per day.

     When I was in Walla Walla, I acquired a pedometer thinking that as a preschool teacher I was walking plenty.  I discovered that 10,000 steps is a lot more steps than I thought.

      Montreal folks have got to be healthy.  For one thing, walking in the snow uses more muscles than just sauntering along a smooth path.  Yesterday was about a 10,000 step day for me.  I walked to the grocery store and back (1,800 or so steps).  I walked to the Metro stop (900) and then I followed a family, who had recently moved from Panama.  We ended-out walking through deep snow and climbing a low wall (a little extra work).  Next I walked up and down Old Port along St. Paul Street pausing to go through the Centre d'histoire de Montreal Museum (2,200).  Back home from the Metro (900).  Dinner of bread and cheese and then back to the Metro (900).  I was back downtown in the Old Port district again walking to find the pier where there would be a winter firework's display.  There and back (1,900).  Metro to home (900).  Total: 9,500 steps.  If I consider the snow and the two hill climbs... adds up to about 10,000 steps worth.

     Today might be a 100 step day!  Staying home due to the ice storm forecasted.   A 100 steps includes up and down the basement steps to do laundry.

     I'm not complaining.  The city is so worth walking.

      I have mentioned that most of the sidewalks are plowed.  Yesterday I got to see the little plow in our neighborhood roaring along the sidewalk.  This job must be coveted by anyone who has aspirations of being a race car driver.  No one would dare get in your pathway.  I spotted one of the little plows at a corner slowly pushing the end of the block pile aside; otherwise my photo would have just been a yellow and black streak.  (Jack, I see you doing this job with a joyful smile on your face!  It would be a blast!)

      I have been thinking about beauty.  I have been posting many photos of  beautiful places or even just beautiful things.  The decision to photograph any particular frame is of course somewhat arbitrary.  Recently I read a book called "Wild Nevada: Testimonies on Behalf of the Desert" by Roberta Moore and Scott Slovic.  In one of the essays an author writes in such a way that one is pulled down from the vastness of the desert to visualize the smallest of insects or plants, sights of beauty on the tiniest scale.  As I travel around through cities or countrysides I wonder often, "Could I live here?  What here feeds my sense of beauty or feeling of visual wealth?"  I try to change the focus of a frame to a smaller focus, if I catch myself thinking, "Not here, please.  Too plain."  Montreal, however, is just pleasing on so many scales.

        Metro station.  This is Champ de Mars Station.

     The Old Port area was almost deserted on an early Saturday morning. In the summer, I think that it is likely the street would have been bumper to bumper.  I do so like winter tourist travel.

        Not all of the sidewalks were well plowed and then I began noticing these signs.

     I found it to be tricky looking down so as not to fall and looking up to dodge ice.  Hm, which to do?  Well, just keep taking photos with fingers crossed.


    The fire that burned half of the city of Montreal in 1852 blessed the city with a new building code requiring stone walls raised slightly higher than the metal roof lines.  I found it funny to recognize a  Ben and Jerry's ice cream store in a building benefiting from that code.  Surely this is their most beautiful store front.


     In the name of beauty here is a Herculean task.  Little tree, perfect lights.  Who scaled this wall shouldering a tree to achieve this effect?

     No I didn't.  I didn't lay in the snow to get this photo, but I almost had to.  I wasn't even looking up to watch for some death-dealing cascade of ice when I saw it.

     What attracted me was that with a perfect eye someone saw the worth of the curve of the window top, the curves in the maroon awning and then hung a rug with the circles embedded in it reflecting the curves elsewhere.  Did they know that the light would create yet another curve?  When beauty is intentionally designed, one can't help but say "Here.  I could be here."

     The juxtaposition of building styles and colors is pleasing.  The old making the new ever so more interesting.

     Ha ha, I didn't notice the "legs" until I looked at the photo that I had taken.  Then I saw the eyes.  How much do we miss by scanning too fast?

     The Montreal History Museum taught me that the street names in this part of town were actually named after council members with "Saint" added for a good measure.  I looked for Saint Nick, never-the-less.   

                                                                                                   Hams?  The foyer of the this restaurant called "Hambar" has the oddest and most visually pleasing array of hams!  Beauty!


     Beauty in the detail.  Anyone else feel like this street light looks like a familiar sculpture?  Is it a mother holding three babies on her hip and reaching for a diaper?  What?

    As the night fell, I passed the Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal.  James O'Donnell was the architect hired from New York in the 1800's. When the building came to completion, he converted to Catholicism.  I find this to be a fitting end to his endeavor.  
    Carolers sang in the square across from the Basilica.


    Only.  Only fifteen minutes of fireworks timed to music.  I had a front row "stand", refusing to lay in the snow like some hardy souls in front of me.  The co-ordination of the music and fireworks was fabulous.

     I wore one light leather pair under one knit fingerless glove so that I could take photos in the 19 degree weather. (My pockets held the third layer of gloves!)  I would do it again!


    The firework guys, their work done, stood along a wall watching the show.  They must have been so proud.  Look closely at their body positions.  One can almost hear them calling out to each other (in French).  The ones with the tiny lights on their foreheads were the ones who gave the last minute orders.


     If you go to Montreal in December, plan to be here for a Saturday night.  A gentleman from a small Quebec village said to me that he comes every year to see this firework show.  He said he was at the first one seven years ago and there were only a handful of people.  Now.  Thousands of handfuls.

     Before the show, people stood around numerous fire pits, skated, or purchased hot drinks in this park on a pier.  As I joined the streams of people leaving the park across a bridge, I noticed a lady handing-out "gifts" to everyone who passed near her.  I jostled to get in the outside row.  The gift?  A little packet of Kleenex!  I was planning to go myself to buy just such a little packet.  Wish fulfilled.  No one sneered at the "gift".  Montreal, the city of winter noses.    
With frames of beauty nestled in my head, I walked towards home.  You may think that I pulled the next photo off of some card site, but I didn't.  Fifty steps more and I was home again.