Odds and Sods Around Our House

Back in the Dark Ages when Laurent and I were, for lack of a better word, courting we would occasionally bring home surprise gifts for each other. (Don’t give me that eye roll, you may well have done the same sort of thing.) At the time I was working at Ottawa Airport and there was a little gift shop that often had bibilots that seemed appropriate (i.e. cute) at the time.

So one evening after an afternoon shift I presented himself with two brass – no not monkeys! – mice. What they were meant to signify at the time or for that matter what purpose they served I’m not sure.

Though I would dare say that visitors never noticed them they have accompanied us in our travels and always had their place on shelves or in cabinets in our various homes.


I have always liked this inquisitive little creature. She, and I’m sure it’s a she, has gazed at family photos, festive candles, creche scenes and other nick-knacks for the past 43 years.


The word for September 27th is:
Bibilots /bē′bə-lō″/: [noun]
1.1 A small decorative object; a trinket.
1.2 A miniature book, especially one that is finely crafted.
1.3 A small object of curiosity, beauty, or rarity; especially, an object of this kind which can be kept in a cabinet or on a shelf.
French, from Old French beubelet, from a reduplication of bel, beautiful, from Latin bellus, handsome.

Hong Kong 1995

I have been following, with much sadness, the events in Hong Kong over the past year or so. And I fear for what will become of that once vibrant and maddening city as the People’s Party tightens the noose that will eventually squeeze the life out of it. Something they have waited patiently to do since 0001 July 1, 1997.

The commemorative Good Luck coin given to passengers on that first Air Canada flight from Hong Kong to Vancouver on December 22 1995.

I have such incredible memories of the three months I spent there working back in 1995 and of subsequent visits to spend time with our friends Diane and Jean-Paul. That first visit was a bit of a pioneering venture: a small group was sent by Air Canada to set up the airport operation for our first route to Asia. We were from various stations and represented each of the departments involved in an airport operation. Though none of us previously knew each other we meshed well as a work team and a social too. It was a great opportunity to get to understand how we all fit in the giant jigsaw puzzle of an airport operation. It meant long days and sometimes longer nights because of the time change and headquarters seeming inability at times to deal with it.

And we were working at an airport that presented challenges on all possible front: Kai Tak.

The famous Checkerboard – you either made your turn there – or…..
This picture is part of a CNN series of great photos by Daryl Chapman which can be viewed by a left click here.

An outdated and overburdened facility at the edge of the Kowloon side of Victoria Harbour it was one of those airports where regardless of how modern the aircraft type or cockpit system the pilots were the ones landing the aircraft on landing not a computer. Nothing was automated. It was visual and manual all the way in – one miscalculation and you either ended up in Kowloon Bay or aborting the landing and going around to try again. The approach was over the city towards Lion Rock Mountain, making a sharp 47º right bank at the Checkerboard, guiding the aircraft through a canyon of apartment buildings so close that you could see what the residents were having for breakfast, calculating the frequent crosswinds and hitting the beginning of a single runway that stretched out into the Harbour. It was known as the “Heart Attack” approach for pilots, passengers and onlookers.

Despite the wild approach there were very few accidents at Kai Tak during it’s 73 years of operation (1925 to 1998). Note: This video must be watched on YouTube but it is “worth the detour” as they say at Michelin. Just give the link a click

By the time I worked there a facility designed to handle, at the most, 24 million passengers a year was seeing upwards of 30 million making it the third busiest airport in the world. There were only six boarding bridges and everything else was tarmac boarding with buses to the aircraft. As I recall there were no boarding announcements allowed in the terminal only at the gate. It was also a favourite airport for passengers using false documents to enter North America illegally. On the Inaugural flight we stopped seven “sailors” headed for Toronto to take an oil tanker through the Saint Lawrence Seaway. Which was strange as the Seaway had closed early that year due to the premature onset of winter ice. As I said it was an airport that offered challenges on many levels.

It was to be replaced by Hong Kong International Airport on Lantau Island in 1998. After years of discussion and sitting derelict Kai Tak has became a transportation hub once again – the old buildings were demolished and a cruise ship terminal was built on the peninsula that was once the runway jutting out into Victoria Harbour. High rises now block the old flight path from the Checkerboard to Runway 13. And needless to say 22 years of tropical storms have dulled those peeling red Checks to a dull pink.

Slowly fading from sight but fondly remembered as part of Aviation History.
Photo from Twitter: Irène DB

But back to 1995. The timing for the inaugural flight, December 22, meant that we spent Christmas in Hong Kong. Laurent flew in from Jordan, where he was living at the time, to join me. I met him at the aircraft and told him I’d see him on the other side of Immigration. I can still remember the look on his face when he came through those doors and confronted the hundreds waiting to meet their loved ones. Kai Tak, or Hong Kong for that matter, was not the place for agoraphobics at Christmas time.

We were extremely fortunate that we had two families to spend that Christmas with: our Air Canada family and the Delisles. Our beloved Diana and Jean-Paul are old friends from Cairo days and it was a chance to once again spend the holidays with them. We were to be with them again the Christmas of 2006: that was the Boxing Day when dinner was interrupted by an earthquake and several after shocks. A truly scary experience as we were at Mid-Levels surrounded by high rises. But that is a story for another time. This memory drawer in the archives of what is left of my mind is that Christmas in 1995.

So what caused this particular memory drawer to creak open, you ask? A t-shirt. A t-shirt? Yes, a t-shirt. An Alan Chan t-shirt that Santa Claus (but really I think it was Diane and Jean-Paul) gave me along with a host of other goodies that Christmas Day.

Even after hundreds if not thousands of washings the design of antique mah jong tiles remains crystal clear. A left click will bring them close up.

A t-shirt that I took out of the wash only yesterday and is one of my favourites. The colours have only slightly faded and it is as soft and comfortable as only oft washed quality cotton can be. When I put it on it brought back memories of that first visit to Hong Kong: my first taste of Singapore Fried Noddles at KaKaFuk, a dinner on a junk with the gang from the High Commission, watching the enormous Christmas light displays taking shape each night on Victoria Island across the harbour from my hotel window, my first tailor-made blazer and dress shirts by Mr. Wani, the old Star Ferry terminal in Kowloon, the gaggle of Philippina maids in the park at Central, the mad confusion and elation of that first departure, Christmas Eve with my Air Canada family, and Christmas Day with our dear Diane, Jean-Paul and their youngest Marc-André.

All those memories came tumbling out of that drawer – and what opened it was that treasured t-shirt. And it reminded once again that I have been granted a life filled with friends, family, adventure, travel, laughter and joy.

The word for July 16th is:
Memory /ˈmɛm(ə)ri/: [noun]
1.1 The faculty by which the mind stores and remembers information.
1.2 The mind regarded as a store of things remembered.
1.3 Something remembered from the past.
1.4 The remembering or commemoration of a dead person.
1.5 The length of time over which a person or event continues to be remembered.
1.6 The part of a computer in which data or program instructions can be stored for retrieval.
1. 7 A computer’s capacity for storing information.
Middle English from Old French memorie, from Latin memoria, from memor ‘mindful, remembering’.
I find 1.2 is starting to make 1.5 of 1.3 question 1.1!!!!




Things In the China Cabinet

Probably more than you need to know about my housekeeping but I don’t think that other than the Crown Staffordshire china and Holmegaard crystal anything has been taken out of the china cabinet since we move in several years ago. The cabinet itself is part of a Shaker dining room set Graeme Fenwick, a local furniture maker in the Ottawa Valley, made for us back in 2004. He used predominately cherry wood with some Birdseye maple as contrast. The joints are all dove tail, tongue-in-grove as well as some dowel. The only concession to modern carpentry are the screws in the hinges.

Our handcrafted Shaker china cabinet – part of a set created for us by Graeham Fenwick at Simply Shaker in Perth, Ontario.

But I digress, as is my wont. Several days ago I thought it would be a good idea to turn my attention to the long neglected china cabinet. This meant of course removing everything from it and a thorough cleaning with Murphy’s. Which also means many pauses for trips down memory lane as long ignored bibelots bring back memories of people and places.

Back in 1979 Laurent showed up at the door with the first of many gifts. I honestly forget the occasion – mind in those days I seem to remember we didn’t really need an occasion. Something would catch our eye and we’d think how much pleasure it would give to the other person. Ah young love!

I don’t know where he found this little piece of the glass blowers art but it has travelled around the world with us. It posses the eternal question – what comes first? Well this little gift did!

Another piece of glass that has moved from house to house was an earlier gift from a loving colleague at Air Canada. In 1976 I moved from Toronto to Ottawa – a long complicated story involving a break up, a house sale, a denied promotion because I was gay, and a general mood of “let me live anywhere but Toronto”.

My Kosta Boda Penguin from Norma Jean Montgomery in 1976.

At my farewell party at the old Park Plaza on Bloor St I was given quite a few parting gifts – people were glad to see me go I guess – but none that I treasured more than a Kosta Boda crystal penguin. It was from Norma Jean Montgomery the most senior employee at Toronto Reservations. She had begun working for Trans Canada Airline in 1946, the year I was born, and was #2 on the cross-Canada seniority list. She was also terrified of flying – she had done it once to visit her family in Winnipeg and came back by train. She never boarded a plane again in her lifetime. Norma Jean was not an emotional person but that gift and the hug she gave me when I left, I treasure to this day.

The word for April 16 is:
Bibelot /ˈbib(ə)ˌlō/: [noun]
A small, decorative ornament, curio or trinket.
First appeared in 1873, from French bibelot “knick-knack,” from Old French beubelet “trinket, jewel” (12c.), from belbel “plaything,” a reduplication of bel “pretty”. What they fail to mention is the memories that bibelots can conjure up.

Grazie Felice, Sono Felice Ma Non Felice!

I had a post almost finished for yesterday but then something wonderful happened in the morning that I felt I wanted to share.

The title of this post is a little play on names and words – Felice is, of course, a Christian name here in Italy but it also means “happy”. So the title is three pronged.  My friend and colleague Felice did something yesterday morning that made me both happy (felice) but also sad (non felice).  Over the past few weeks and in the next few weeks these are emotions that I am finding, and given my slightly emotional nature will find, constantly overlapping.

Over a year ago I put up a post about Felice and his remarkable gift as a woodcarver. It has proven an often read item.  In the last paragraph I promised that I would do something more about the artist and his work.  Somehow time crept up and I never did get around to it until now just as I am saying goodbye to Felice, his wife Anna and friends and at the Embassy.

He asked if I would be free for coffee in the morning as he would like to meet before he left on vacation and I left the country.  So yesterday morning we met and headed over to the Australian Bar (dont’ ask!) for a capucc.  He was carrying something enshrouded in a pair of long winter socks and when we sat down he gave it to me and said very quietly, as is his nature,  “I made this for you, I hope you will like it?”

Like it?  I love it!

What I unwrapped was this beautiful hand carved olive wood walking stick.  Felice had worked it from a piece of wood from a tree that had been cut down in the gardens of Villa Grandi, the residence of our Ambassador.  It is over a hundred years old and what I can’t convey about it either in pictures or words is the feel and scent of this incredible wood.  Running my hands over it I could feel the age and strength of the wood and the work that went into it.  And the oils in my hands seemed to release the subtle scent of olive. And as I am writing this it sits on the table in front of me ever so slightly perfuming the summer air.

I can honestly say that as moved as I was by the feel and the scent of the wood and remarkable artistry that had gone into the piece what touched me most was the warmth of the gift and the person giving it.

Caro Felice mille grazie for the happiness that you have given me with this present.  I know that I join a small group of fortunate people who have been gifted with the work of your hands and heart.  It will remind me of the beauty of both this place and more importantly the beauty of the people I have come to know here.

 06 luglio – Santa Maria Goretti

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