Moncton… or Bust!

Monday – February 3:
I’m not sure why Tommy Elliot called April “the cruelest month” ? I’m sure if really wanted to plow my way through that canto of The Wasteland it would be as clear as ditch water. It seems to me February and March ain’t all that congenial. And many Islanders agree with me. A goodly number of our friends, and foes, are departing at some point in the next three months for exotic – and warmer ergo I guess less cruel – destinations like British Columbia, Florida, Mexico, France, Kenya, Vietnam etc.

That line in the lower quarter of the photo is the Confederation Bridge – our link to the mainland. The pylons are constructed like gigantic bread slicers that cuts through the ice floes on the Strait. Otherwise the pressure of ice would quickly collapse the spans. A real engineering marvel.

Tuesday – February 4:
Not to be outdone we too headed south yesterday for a bit of a “vacy” – to Moncton! We packed our steamer trunks, paid our toll, and head across the 11km “fixed link” to Canada’s only officially bi-lingual province. Dear lord did I ever think a two-day trip to the “Hub City” would constitute a vacation but there you are. Our appraisals change with our circumstances.

A Life Crowded with Incident
Now given the previous paragraphs you might be wondering “why”? Well it is a multi-purpose trip. First to catch a performance by the Atlantic Ballet; second to see our friend Colette – unfortunately we won’t get to see my friend Darrell as he is in Saigon (b_ _ _ _ _ d!); third to have lunch at Tony’s; and finally a COSTCO run. Yes a COSTCO run – I already told you we don’t have a COSTCO or an Ikea on the Island so get over it! We have – well almost.

A Sidebar:
I was chatting with a friend at the Farmers‘ Market on Saturday who is a former Island Poet Laureate and a great story teller. I mentioned we were going to Moncton and of course it was the cue for a story.

He was in Moncton at a conference (yeah I bet it was actually a COSTCO run) and ran into an old Islander of his acquaintance. This fine chap was from up Ebenezer-way had never been off-Island in his life. He was obviously dazzled by the bright lights of Main Street. “So what are you planning to do?” Alastair asked him. “Why everything,” replied the old gentleman, “you only get to Moncton once in a lifetime you know!” There are those who perhaps would say that should suffice.

The word for February 4th is:
… or bust /ɔː ˈbʌst/: [informal idiom]
Used to indicate one’s intention to do everything possible to reach a goal, total failure being the only alternative.
Chiefly an American (U.S.) idiom probably coined circa 1859 during the California Gold Rush. The lure of that mother lode had thousands with nothing to lose and everything to gain heading West. Pike’s Peak or Bust became their rallying cry.

The "Aunt Heap"

The centre piece of the commemoration of the birth of Queen Victoria at Kensington Place is Victoria: Woman and Crown. A temporary exhibition created by Nissen Richards Studio it highlights clothing from the Historic Royal Palaces collections and many items on loan from the Royal Trust Collection and the private collection of Her Majesty the Queen.

A left click on the entrance way to Victoria: Woman and Queen will take you to the creators website with more pictures of the actual exhibition design and some of the challenges the design team faced.

As I mentioned in a previous post Alexandrina Victoria was a small woman and as a teenager often bewailed her lack of stature. She once exclaimed “Everyone grows but me!” At one point there were rumours that under the strict regime of “the Kensington System” she wasn’t being fed properly which accounted for her slightness of build. Her mother and Sir John Conroy went to great lengths to put those stories to rest. Her height has been variously given as 4’10”, 4’11” and 5’1″.

Dating from 1840 this hand stitched cotton lawn petticoat is a good indication of how small she was at the time of her marriage to Prince Albert.

After their marriage in February 1840 Prince Albert became Victoria’s chief advisor on most things. He was the orchestrator of her public persona right down to the clothing she wore. She had no wish to upstage her husband who had no right to wear a crown so she chose to wear a bonnet in public. Though she was criticized it gave the “favourable” impression of the Royal pair as being an “ordinary couple”. (Sound familiar?)

Albert had jewellery made to his designs as gifts for Victoria. She wore this circlet of gold and semi-precious stones every year on their wedding anniversary. The four small green oranges nestled amongst the blossoms represent their four eldest children.

Her shoes were made by Richard Grundy and Sons of Soho Square. They were to be her shoemakers from 1824 until 1898. The exhibition included a pair of silver boots that suggest that though she may have been tiny Victoria had normal size feet. Or perhaps it was just the fashion at the time. A recent acquisition of the Historic Royal Palaces they are made of silk, leather and cotton. Dating from 1840 they show that before the years of her widowhood Victoria had a sense of style and flair.

A left click will take you to a video showing the conservation technique used in restoring the boots for display.

During her lifetime there were two pieces of jewellery that were constantly on her person: a locket containing a lock of Albert’s hair and his portrait, and a gold charm bracelet. They are normally housed in the “Albert Room” at Windsor Castle. This was the room in which Prince Albert had died in 1861 and the Queen left instructions for a specific list of personal jewellery to be placed there and not passed on in the family. (A left click on the links will take you to a closer look at both.)

After the death of Albert, from suspected typhoid, in 1861 and until the day she died in 1901 Victoria wore “widow’s weeds”. Black silk or satin, jet beads, ebony work, and her eternal widow’s cap became her trademark. It also set the standard for “mourning” in households of wealth and position and those with pretence to wealth and position.

Much has been written of Victoria’s nine children and of her relationships with them. For someone who gave her name to a (publicly) sexually stifled period she apparently enjoyed the pleasures of the couch but not the resultant accouchment. Her frequent pregnancies left her with a painful hernia which was to plague her until the day she died. It also accounted for her “dumpy” appearance as she aged. She delivered her eighth and ninth child with the aid of chloroform under objections of clergy and doctors. The former found it “unbiblical” and the later “dangerous”.

She wasn’t particularly fond of children and thought newborns resembled “tadpoles”. During his lifetime Albert involved himself with the upbringing and education of their children. It was a strange mixture of liberalism and privilege. After his death Victoria demanded attention from her children even as they matured and left home as consorts of half the monarchies of Europe.

With the abolition of the British East India Company in 1858 the British Government took over governing the Subcontinent. However in 1877, as a political move, Benjamin Disraeli had Victoria proclaimed Empress of India. She took an interest in the people and culture of that corner of her immense Empire and learned Urdu from Abdul Karmin, an Indian household servant who became her personal clerk or Munshi. Though she kept to her signature black silk dresses they were often adorned with patterns easily recognizable as of Indian origin.

The exhibition ends, not with her death in 1901 but four years earlier when she celebrated her Diamond Jubilee in 1897. By that point her popularity had reach a high and she appeared more frequently in public. Though all the heads of government in her Dominions were present at the festivities the crowned heads of Europe had been excluded. There was strong anti-German sentiment in England at the time and it was felt the presence of her eldest grandson Wilhelm could be a source of contention. He was her favourite and rather than offend him it was decided that none of the European “royals” – most of whom were family – would be invited.

Ironically she was to die in “Willy’s” arms on January 21, 1901 at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight.

The word for January 23 is:
Homodoxian /ˈhōmōdäksēən/: [countable noun]
Someone who shares the same opinion as you.
Obsolete noun from the Greek: homos – the same + doxa – opinion
No it does mean the same dachshund – no doxie is the same as another. They are all unique! Ask Nicky and Nora.

The "Aunt Heap"

Continuing our visit to Kensington Palace

As mentioned in the first post two of the exhibitions at Kensington Palace commemorated the 200th anniversary of the birth of Her Majesty Victoria, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Queen, Defender of the Faith, Empress of India.

Victoria: A Royal Childhood, a new permanent exhibition, is a bittersweet display capturing her life at Kensington Palace – from her birth on May 24, 1819 until the morning of June 20th 1837 when she became Queen. The last room is, fittingly enough, the Red Saloon where she met with the Accession Council for the first time as Queen.

Though the table where she signed the Protestant Declaration is the centre piece of the room what caught my attention was the diorama of the Coronation at Westminster Abbey and the immense dalmatica that she wore.

It appears that things did not go quite as planned on more than one occasion during the five hour long ceremony. The lack of rehearsal and general air of improvisation was commented on by more than one observer. The young Benjamin Disraeli commented that the participants “were always in doubt as to what came next, and you saw the want of rehearsal”.

The dalmatica is a liturgical vestment worn by a deacon during mass and by tradition a British monarch, as supreme head of the church, during what was once called the “Eighth Sacrament”. Encased in glass, badly lit, jammed into a corner and it’s flowing lines stiffened to a cone shape it did not show to best advantage. Looking at the elaborately woven cloth of gold robe, heavy with silk embroidery, my first thought was that must have overwhelmed the teen age Queen as Victoria was only 5 feet one inch (several of the other sources suggest less than that). C. R Leslie’s portrait of her kneeling at the altar at Westminster Abbey gives a better impression of how it appeared when worn.

Queen Victoria at the altar of Westminster Abbey.
Charles Robert Leslie (1794-1859) – Victoria and Albert Museum

Victoria: Woman and Crown, the second special exhibition, highlighted examples of the Queen’s wardrobe during both her time as a young, and vibrant, bride and ruler and during the long dour years of her self-imposed mourning. And I’ll should have a post on it available shortly.

The word of the day for December 7th is:
Jocoserious /dʒəʊkəʊˈsɪərɪəs/: [adjective]
A mixture of half in jest and half serious. A blending of serious and humourous matters. Jocose + serious.

First appeared in 1637 in the anonymously published Raillerie À La Mode Consider’d, or the Supercilious Detractor: A Joco-Serious Discourse; Shewing the Open Impertinence and Degenerosity of Publishing Private Pecques and Controversies to the World. A jocoserious title if there ever was one!
Dr Spo will be pleased to hear it is also used in Chapter 17 of James Joyce’s Ulysses. But then what word isn’t?

The “Aunt Heap”

A first look at Kensington Palace

On our, too, brief stay in London we stuck to the Bayswater-Kensington Gardens neighbourhood we were billeting in. I hadn’t been in that area since my first trip to London back in 1969 and it has mightily changed – for the better.

I don’t think Laurent had ever been in Kensington Gardens and I had never visited the Palace. So we strolled through the former and took a look in at the later.

Towards the Ceremonial Entrance and State Apartments of Kensington Palace
Kensington Palace looking towards the public east entrance. The statue of Queen Victoria was designed by Princess Louise (she of the Princess Louise Fusilliers) in 1893 to commemorate her mother’s Golden Jubilee.
Photo by Shisha Tom

Built in 1605 in the village of Kensington the original palace was a two story Jacobean mansion which was bought in 1619 by the Earl of Nottingham. It remained in that family until 1689 when it was acquired by the newly crowned William and Mary. William had a fragile constitution and sought a residence away from the fog and floods of Thames-side Palace of Whitehall. Kensington was to serve for the next 70 years as the favoured royal residence for Queen Anne, the last of the Stuarts, and the first two Hanoverian Kings.

The mansion was expanded over that time with both the exterior and interiors altered and decorated by, variously, Christopher Wren, Nicholas Hawksmore, John Vanbrugh, Grinling Gibbons, and William Kent. With the accession of George III and a move to Buckingham House, Kensington Palace became housing for minor royalty and grace-and-favour accommodation for faithful, if forgotten, retainers. In the mid-1900s Edward VII referred to it as the “aunt heap” but in the later part of the century it was to be the home of Princess Margret, Prince and Princess Charles of Wales, and now Prince William and his family.

On May 24, 1819 Alexandrine Victoria, the last of the Hanovers, was born in this room at Kensington Palace. In 1837, on the death of William IV, her uncle, she became Queen of the United Kingdom at age 18.

Alexandrina Victoria of Kent was born and lived at Kensington until the morning of June 20, 1837, when she was awoken and in a Palace drawing room informed by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lord Chamberlain that she was now the monarch of the British Empire. She promptly moved to Buckingham Palace but always had a fondness for her childhood home. There was a plan to demolish it but in 1897 she persuaded Parliament to finance a restoration of the State Rooms in the badly decaying property and it was opened to the public on May 24, 1899.

Poster image for the Discover the Real Victoria exhibition at Kensington Palace to commemorate the 200th anniversary of her birth.

Today the public has access to the King’s Rooms, the Queen’s Rooms (closed during our visit), and the rooms associated with Victoria. The later contained two fascinating exhibit for the bi-centennial of her birth. As well one of the galleries has been turned over to the fashion designs favoured by Diana, Princess of Wales during her years as a public figure.

We gave the last one a skip but spent a few hours in the other beautifully done exhibitions.

Coming a bit later: The House of Cards – Kensington as Pleasure Palace!

November 26th is Cake Day! Since we’re doing things up all-royal like this must be as in “Let them eat….”?

6,700 Surnames

For our brief overnight in Amsterdam after the cruise we choose the Quinton Zoo Hotel which as its name implies is close to the Artis Zoo. In other times the area had been the Jewish Quarters. A migration of Portuguese Sephardic Jews after their expulsion from the Iberian Peninsula had contributed to the growth of Amsterdam as a trading centre. It was to remain the centre of Jewish life and culture until the Nazi Occupation during the Second World War.

The Hollandsche Schouwburg was first a theatre, then a prison and deportation centre for Dutch Jews, and now stands as a memorial to those who were taken from their homes never to return.

As we looked out our window I remarked to Laurent that the building across the street looked very much like a theatre, as indeed it was. But a theatre with a sad history. Built in 1891 the Hollandsche Schouwburg (Dutch Theatre) was one of the more popular theatres in Amsterdam however with the Occupation because of it’s location the name was changed to Joodsche Schouwburg (Jewish Theatre). It did not serve that function for long and in 1942 it became a prison and deportation centre as Jews were rounded up and sent first to Westerbork or the Vught transit camps, and from there to the camps at Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen or Sobibor. It is estimated that between 60,000 and 80,000 men, women and children were sent from here to almost certain death.

Along the sidewalks on the Plantage Middenlaan, the main street in what is now known as the Jewish Cultural Quarter, brass “stones” bear the names of people deported from the Old Quarter and sent to the extermination camps. The word “vermoord” means “murdered”. These two were in front of the Nationaal Holocaust Museum.

After the war it sat derelict and in 1962 all but the facade of the theatre was demolished. The space became a memorial garden, chapel and a Wall of Remembrance to the victims of the Nazi Occupation. The Wall does not list individual names but simply the 6,700 surnames of families that were deported and murdered.

The Wall of Remembrance behind the facade of the Hollandsche Schouwburg incised with the 6,700 family names of the 140,000 Dutch Jews deported to extermination camps during the Nazi Occupation.

October 12 is Old Farmers Day – now, now Steve don’t take it personally.