Lisboa II

In which the traveler spends time in a haunt of his younger days prior to departing for virgin territory.

Dear Diary

November 19 – Toronto

When I was in grade school back in the middle of the last century once a year we would take a class trip around the world. Or at least the world as represented in the collection of odds and sods at the Royal Ontario Museum. We would board a yellow school bus under the watchful eye of Miss Radke or Mrs Sinclair and go all the way to downtown Toronto. It was a day of visits to China, Egypt, Europe, and our idea of Jurassic Park.

Jade funeral suit of the Lady Tou-Wan that was the centrepiece of a Chinese exhibition in 1974 at the ROM.

The last time I was at the ROM would have been for the opening of a major Chinese exhibition back in the summer of 1974. The main attraction was the jade funeral suit of the Lady Tou dating from the 2nd century BC. I recall it being a heavy slog as we listened to Chinese speeches by their Ambassador translated into French and English, English speeches by the Museum director translated into Chinese and French, and French speeches by the Acting Governor General translated into Chinese and English. It left little time to view the highly propagandistic exhibition including it’s main attraction.

However the Chinese artifacts at the ROM has always been one of its main attractions — with or without jade suits. It is still a remarkable collection and much has been done to enhance viewing beyond the “things in glass cases” I recall as a young visitor. Most impressive was the Tomb of General Zu Dashou – a mid-17th century burial monument to a major figure in the history of the Ming Dynasty. I seemed to recall it being in a garden to one side of the museum and viewable as you walked along Bloor Street. It is now the first display seen as you enter the Asian Galleries off the central entrance. I preferred it outdoors but the elements and Toronto pollution were taking their toll.

The 17th century tomb of General Zu Dashou – one of the iconic pieces in the ROM Chinese collection

The tomb of an important official would always include their funeral procession in miniature.  I loved the one horseback rider who has been distracted by someone or something in the crowd.

There is a small collection of Japanese art in the Asian named in honour of Prince Takamado who died in 2002 while playing squash at the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo.  He had studied law in Canada and had many close friends here.

I was particularly taken with a series of block prints by Naoka Matsubara, a Japanese artists who now lives in Canada.  She is part of the Creative Print Movement where the artist takes responsibility for the entire printmaking process.  

Here are two of her 200 works that are in the ROM collection:

I fell in love with this print of a multitude of Buddahist Saints – Christmas is coming just in case you were thinking of …..
Naoka Matsubara’s impression of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

Well dear diary I guess you are probably wondering what all this has to do with Lisboa?  Our flight didn’t leave until 2255 and we had a whole day to spend in Toronto so what better way than a bit of museum hoping.  Which is what we did, followed by a late lunch, a late check-out, and a lengthy wait at Pearson Airport prior to boarding.

I wish I could end with entry with a “thence to bed” however I can never sleep on a flight so no doubt the night will be spend flipping through two year old 2nd rate movies and frantically looking at my watch every ten minutes.  Did I ever mention that I am scared of flying.  Time for a pill!

On this day 1869: Dumbarton, Scotland, the clipper Cutty Sark is launched and is one of the last clippers ever built, and the only one still surviving today.

Remembrance of Things Past

In which I ramble about a trip long past.

Toronto International Airport – 1960s – I began working there in 1966 in the little operations control centre at the end of Finger 5 (red arrow). 

Back in June of 1969 I made my first of many trips to London. I was still very new with the airlines and our passes were not as generous as they were to become. You were given one pass a year to ever widening destinations and after three years I still had not graduated to an overseas pass.  This meant I had to buy a (greatly) reduced standby ticket on another airline out of New York.  The night I was to leave violent thunderstorms cancelled all the flights to JFK so I attempted to sleep in the Teletype room at Toronto International Airport (that was a long time ago) and caught the early morning flight to connect to a PanAm (a really long time ago!) daylight flight. Unfortunately a combination of fatigue, hunger, and fear (yes I’m terrified of flying) led to me passing out as we reached cruising altitude and I came to somewhere over Newfoundland with a very concerned stewardess (a really, really long time ago we called them that) applying a cold compress to my neck. It was the beginning of a very eventful 10 days.

Amongst those events was a stay at a hotel in Bayswater that was rumoured to have been built for Lily Langtry by Edward VII and included a “bijoux” theatre that was the hotel’s bar. It had been turned into a hotel a year or two before and my recollection is of a not overly commodious or commoded single room – my first experience of a bathroom down the hall. And on the way through the warren of hallways and stairs to my chamber I had to pass a room occupied by a permanent resident of the hotel. She was an ancient lady with a mittel-European accent who would open her door a crack as I passed by and mutter dire auguries and bulletins on her fading health. The hall porter said not to mind her she was slightly mad but harmless.

But it wasn’t all fainting and mad women there was also gossip, death, murder, suicide, deceit and chicanery but fortunately most of it on stage.  I was there for theatre and opera.  It was off to the Old Vic for The Way of the World with Geraldine McEwen,  Covent Garden for Georg Solit conducting Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, Glyndebourne for Werther, Pelleas et Melisande and Cosi Fan Tutte.  A tuxedo was de rigueur for Glyndebourne so a trip was made to Moss Bros in Covent Garden to be tricked out in style.  And for two of the performances the 1430 train to Glynde was caught at Victoria Station.

In his usual wry style Osbert Lancaster captured Glyndebourne of the 1960s – our arrival on a motor bike would have suited his sense of the unusual to a tee.

For the third performance my arrival was a trifle less traditional. I had left the Mad Lady of Bayswater behind and gone to stay with the family of a colleague across the river in Richmond. The son of the family had never been to an opera and we were able to get a last minute ticket for Cosi. Gordon owned a motor bike and thought it would be a lark to drive it down to Lewes on a sunny Sunday afternoon.  Our arrival at the opera house was a source of puzzlement to the car park attendant who had no idea where to put us amongst the Bentleys and Jaguars that filled the lot.  Nor as I recall did he know what to charge us.  And the cloak room ladies were equally puzzled when presented with mackintoshes and helmets.  After Mozart, a stroll in the gardens, dinner at the Nether Wallop restaurant we biked back to Richmond with a stop in Brighton to see the pier illuminations and the fireworks.

The programme cover for that visit in 1969 was again Lancaster capturing as only he could the fun of the fair!  The old theatre at Glyndebourne still had a slight village hall air to it.

Being the first trip to London it meant visits to Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s, the Tower of London, Harrod’s (back when it was special and had yet to become a theme park), Fortnum and Mason, the British Museum, the Salisbury Pub in St Martin’s Lane, and Pollack’s Toy Store.

One of Pollock’s reproduction Toy Theatre – The Victoria with characters and scenery for Cinderella found its way into my suitcase.

What?  A toy store?  Well yes but not just any old toy store! Pollack’s was a toy store and museum known for it’s antique juvenile drama – one penny plain and twopence coloured” sets and for reproductions using copper plates dating back to the 1840s.  Given my fascination with toy theatres it can be safely assumed a good deal of what I put in my luggage on the return was from Pollock’s which I wrote about several years ago.  Several complete coloured sets, along with several plain sheets and playbooks,  and a modern (1960s) theatre sheet for the 1928 Drury Lane production of Showboat by an artist called James Hope Williams.  And that theatre sheet is what began me rambling about that first visit to a city that never ceases to amaze and delight.

Henry Bessemer, the English inventor, is quoted as saying “On March 4, 1830 I arrived in London, where a new world seemed opened to me.”  I could well have said the same thing of June 10, 1969.

On this day in 1665: The first joint Secretary of the Royal Society, Henry Oldenburg, publishes the first issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, the world’s longest-running scientific journal.

Only One – Maybe Two – More

One of the first casualties of the downsizing when we move from Rome back in 2011 was the 10 foot Christmas tree.  There was just no way it would fit either in the apartment or in storage – so off it went to Good Will to be replaced by a smaller (European?) model.  And with diminution of the festive boughs came the discover that first Christmas of a surfeit of decorations.  Much like the Mad Hatter I was left caroling “No room!  No room!”  So a pronouncement went out that as of now (Christmas 2011) there were to be no more Christmas decorations purchased henceforth and forthwith!

However one definition of the noun pronouncement says that it is after all only a formal way of expressing an opinion.  And as we all know opinions are just that … And not really binding.  And besides we have nothing on the tree that speaks to my Irish heritage.  And what could say Ireland more than a beblinged Brian Boru harp and Dublin more than a besequined Georgian door?  So these two will be joining the Russian pig and our brightly polished balls (oh stop it!!!) on this year’s tree.



But even Juan, not known for his restraint – except perhaps in conversation – thought that these creatures would be be a bit over-the-top.  So the two Riverdance-want-to-bes  will not be setting our tree to jiggling and our lovely balls a tumbling – STOP IT I SAY! – as they relentlessly stomp away.


On this day in 1883:  First run of the Orient Express.

Despised and Rejected

He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Isaiah 53:3 – KJV

This passage from Isaiah is perhaps best known as the words to one of the most moving moments in Handel’s The Messiah and were first sung by Susannah Cibber at Dublin’s Great Music Hall on Fishamble Street in 1742. The choral forces for those first performances were drawn from the men and boys choirs of St Patrick’s and Christ Church Cathedrals. It is perhaps fitting then that this is the first thing you see as you enter the precincts of Dublin’s great medieval Cathedral of the Holy Trinity (Christ Church). The face of the figure sleeping on the bench may be hidden but the wounds on the feet are unmistakable.


In 2012 Jesus the Homeless, the work of Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz, was offered to St Michael’s Roman Catholic Cathedral in Toronto and St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.  Both institutions refused the work for reasons that suggested, amongst other things, that the clergy were not comfortable with the image being presented or its message.

A year later the first casting was installed at Regis College, the Jesuit School of Theology at University of Toronto.  Since then, and not without controversy, some 40 bronzes have been installed throughout the world.  In May 2015 the yard at Christ Church became the first European location for this moving and disturbing piece.  In an act of union the Roman Catholic and Church of Ireland Archbishops of Dublin dedicated and blessed the work.




At the unveiling the Anglican Archbishop referred to the “scandalous fact that the relentlessness of homelessness and the statistics of individual homeless people in Dublin in 2015 still merit such a sculpture as a reminder and as a memorial.”   That was brought home on Saturday night as we walked back to our hotel on O’Connell street.   The portico of the Post Office was crowded with street people being given haircuts and shaves, and a needle exchange caravan was parked nearby.  One of several volunteer programmes that operate throughout the city it was a sobering sight that brought home the message of Schmalz’s reminder.

On this day in 1528: William Tyndale, the renowned English Reformer and Bible translator published his famous work The Obedience of a Christian Man