A Rose is a Rose is a Window

During the three years back in the mid-70s when I went back and forth between Toronto and Paris I attended Mass fairly regularly at Notre Dame as it was often the closest church to where I was staying. I will admit that as buildings I always preferred Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre across the river and Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois just behind the Louvre but for a building of such size and grandeur worship at Notre Dame still had the feeling of being a “parish” affair. And indeed Notre Dame de Paris is a parish church – for Île de la Cité …. and the world

North Rose Window Virgin Mary Jesus Disciples Stained Glass Notre Dame Cathedral Paris France. Notre Dame was built between 1163 and 1250 AD. Virgin Mary Rose Window oldest in Notre Dame from 1250.

But it’s the having not the keeping that is the treasure.

The Lost Hotels of Paris
Jack Gilbert

Early reports claimed that only the North Rose window survived the horrible fire at Notre Dame de Paris yesterday. However the Archbishop of Paris confirmed this morning that all three had been saved as had the great organ. And as investigations begin reports of other treasures being found unharmed bring some consolation at the destruction that it appears a simple spark may have started.

Much has been written in the past 24 hours and there would be little I could add however my dear Dr. Spo expressed a few thoughts that I’d like to share:

Spo-Reflections

Someone and I recently had experiences of mono no aware viz. the passing of Time and the ephemeral element of such. Last weekend he had dinner with a friend of ours whom we haven’t seen or heard from in many years perhaps decades. Someone reported it was a nice but sort of sad for our friend had clearly aged; he was not as ‘sharp’ as was.  They talked of times together (circa late 90s/early 00s) at places no longer open with friends no longer in touch.

While traveling to Michigan last weekend I wanted to eat at Olga’s, a Greek restaurant I regularly visited in my college days back in the early 80s. Olga was a vivacious young woman then who was just opening her first store. Last Saturdays’ food was the same but the place didn’t have the ambience of my college days. There was a sense of fading to the…

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A Thank You Note – 1918

Poppies-commonwealth

Ernie-MillsMy friend Candy shared a family keepsake on FaceBook yesterday that made, for me at least, today’s commemorations more personal and alive.  It was a yellowing envelope that contained a note of a few lines that spoke of a time and a page in the life of her maternal grandfather during the Great War.

(William) Earl Mills was born in Ottawa in 1893 and along with 619,639 other Canadians answered the call to serve in the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the 1914-18 War. As the war was drawing to a close he had had been badly wounded and was being repatriated home to Canada, one of the 138,000 Canadian battle casualties. Before leaving England he was given a “thank you” note – a note that no doubt to a young Canadian who had been brought up in the tradition of serving King and Country meant a great deal.

Earl-Mills-letter

1918
The Queen and I wish
you God-speed, a
safe return to the
happiness & joy of home
life with an early
restoration to health.

A grateful Mother
country thanks you
for faithful services.

George R(ex) I(mperator)

Earl returned to Ottawa and began working for Canadian Pacific Railway. Two years after his return he married Vina Victoria Barber and started a family – Candy’s mother Eileen was their first child. In telling me of her grandparents Candy recalled that one of the family stories was that Earl and Vina were destined for each other – she was the fourth of eight children in her family and he the fourth of eight in his. She also remarked that like many people of his generation he never spoke of the war.  Earl died in 1976 at the age of  83; Vina had died several years before.  They are buried in the Wolford Rural Cemetery outside of Ottawa.

Perhaps in this day and age that note from King George may strike us as ingenuous at the least and colonial paternalism at the worst however it was a different world with a strong sense of ties to the Empire.  It was also a world that was to change radically between the two World Wars and even more with the advance towards the new century.  But to the returning veterans a “thank you” note from the King was a reassurance that their mission and sacrifice were noted and valued.  And it reaches out one hundred years later and tells us that Earl Mills served his country and was recognized for that service.  And that he returned home to Canada and enjoyed the life he had fought to preserve.

On this day in 1865: Dr Mary Edwards Walker receives the US Medal of Honor, becoming the first woman to receive the award.

 

Lunedi Lunacy

Often these days I feel a bit like Marcel Proust – no I don’t mean all languid and lavender – but that a sentence, even a word, a smell, a visual will trigger a memory of things past.  More than likely it will be some mundane event that has no meaning to anyone but me.

Red-Skelton
Freddie the Freeloader (Red Skelton) as lined by Al Hirschfeld.

Someone mentioned Red Skelton in a conversation the other day and even as they said the word a memory picture came flooding back.  The living room of the MacGregor house across the road and a few houses down from my childhood home on Beta Street.  Almost every Tuesday night I would babysit young Ray.  If I remember correctly his father worked evening shift at the Goodyear factory and his mom had some sort of community club she went to that night.  So I would head over, make sure Ray was doing his homework and turn on the TV to the Red Skelton Show.

Red was one of those entertainers who had learned and honed his craft from an early age.  At 10 he joined a medicine show, progressed to working on a showboat, then burlesque, vaudeville and by 1940 he was under contract to MGM.  But radio and television were to be media that made him a household word.  However much of his material came from those early stage days and they were the most requested routines when he was on tour or recording TV specials.  One of his earliest classics praised the virtues(?) of “Guzzler’s Gin”.

At the end of every hour Red would perform a pantomime sketch – perhaps as Freddie the Freeloader, Junior the Mean Widdle Kid, Clem Kaddlehoffer, or as one of the many anonymous people he had observed over the years.  In many of his sketches and pantomimes a hat was the only prop he used – he once said that was because in the early years he used as few props as necessary so he could make a quick getaway if the act went badly.

One of the joys of watching him perform was the enjoyment he seemed to get in performing and how he would often  laugh at his own material – and on those Tuesday nights I laughed right along with him.

On this day in 1843: The News of the World tabloid begins publication in London.

My Night With Josephine

Josephine-Hirschfeld
An early caricature by Al Hirschfeld of Josephine – possibly from her unsuccessful appearance in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1936.

Yesterday two things brought back the memory of  my night with the great Music Hall star Josephine Baker.  First, June 3rd was her birthday: she was born 110 years ago in St Louis, Missouri, the daughter of a laundress and a vaudeville drummer.  Second, I received a call from my old friend Shelia who reminded of that evening in April of 1972 when we went to the Royal York Hotel to see La Baker on stage.

It was during her career renaissance in the last years of her life that Josephine appeared at the Imperial Room – the premiere showroom in Toronto at the time.  Sheila was an acquaintance of Louis Jannetta, the renowned maitre d’ of the Room and knowing I was an adoring fan she had arranged a ring-side table.  After the first show, Shelia – who was never the shy one and had a flamboyant charm that disarmed men and women alike – cornered Mr Jannetta and said:  We’d kill to met that woman! He laughed and assured her that murder, the ensuing mess of a trial, and possible incarceration wouldn’t be necessary; he would be more than happy to take us backstage after the second show.  Her second show was a spectacular as the first – being Josephine it meant a costume change to something even more elaborate than her first ensemble.

Afterwards Mr Jannetta escorted us backstage and introduced me as her #1 fan in the city of Toronto.   She greeted us with hugs and so much charm – I dare say not too many people had come back during the run.  Sheila, being Sheila,  grandly, and to my surprise I should add, asked if she’d like to join us in a glass of champagne and an omelette at Gason’s a great restaurant she knew of in the old Markham Village.  Josephine laughing thanked us and said that after a show she enjoyed a cup of tea more than a glass of bubbly and that late nights were out of the question these days.  She then turned to me and I remember it to this day said: Could you help an old lady on with her slippers, good sir? And there I was helping one of the legends of French Music Hall slip into comfortable shoes. I had loved her before then but loved her even more afterwards.  She thanked me, gave me a kiss on either cheek and promised to send me an autographed photo.

6f671-josephine_baker
This Hirschfeld lithograph has always found a place in our homes.  It was done in 1964 when she made her first New York appearance in 28 years.

Three years later I was doing a good deal of commuting between Toronto and Paris and had tickets to see her in a revue at the Bobino in the second week of its run.  Celebrating her 50 years on the French stage it was “un grand retour” to Paris, the city of her first success.  It became the hottest ticket in Europe and the media was filled with stories of her life and previous successes, and failures.  The show opened on April 8, 1975 to rave reviews and was sold out for months.  Four days later she was found in a coma lying peacefully in her bed surrounded by newspapers with glowing accounts of her performance.  She died later that day.

Happy Birthday dearest Josephine. Thank you for making a young star struck man very happy and for giving an old man such a wonderful memory.

 

On this day in 1855: Major Henry C. Wayne departs New York aboard the USS Supply to procure camels to establish the U.S. Camel Corps.

Hidden Away

One of the pleasures (?) of moving is that as you are packing up you discover things that you forgot you had.  In some cases they find their way into the jumble sale box but in others they bring back forgotten memories and are carefully transported to your new home.

During our Warsaw days we were lucky enough to be included in a music appreciation group that had been organized by a most remarkable man:  Y C Pan* or just Pan as he was known by everyone at Foreign Affairs.  Once a month an array of people of Pan’s acquaintance would gather at someone’s house and bring along a record to play.  There would be a pause as some point in the evening and a light supper would be served.  When we first began attending these evenings the music was predominately classical; however  as time went on it expanded (often much to Pan’s dismay) to include jazz, Broadway, musique concrete, folk, and on one memorable evening rhythm and blues.

There group could vary from ten to sometimes as many as thirty – there was always the core group: several people from the Embassy (Poles and Canadians), a law professor from the University and her artist husband, a member of the Polish Parliament, and a ceramic artist, and his wife who wrote children’s books.  They were a lovely couple and they expressed their regret that they just didn’t have enough room in their apartment to host a gathering to reciprocate the hospitality of their Canadian friends.

However just before we left they invited us for Sunday lunch – a time normally reserved for family so we were greatly honoured.  And even more so when after lunch they presented us with a going-away gift that Tadeusz had made to remember them by.


In one of our many moves (this is the fifth since Warsaw) they were left in a cupboard and rediscovered when we were packing up. They brought back forgotten memories of those musical evenings, a lunch in their small but lovely apartment, and two people that we knew for a brief but wonderful time in our travels. Their gift has come with us to PEI and I found a place for them in our new home. They are no longer hidden away.

*The Polish word for Mister is Pan and for Mrs is Pani – so Pan and his wife were called Pan Pan and Pani Pan by their Polish friends.

On this day in 1872: Trade unions are legalised in Canada.