At the Going Down of the Same

Since October 28 there has been a light show on Parliament Hill to commemorate our Canadian war dead.  Each evening 117,000 poppies have dropped down the Peace Tower and the facade of the Centre Block.   One poppy for each Canadian killed in a conflict since 1899 when we first took part in a war as a country.


On this day in 1989: Germans begin to tear down the Berlin Wall.

Havoc From Heaven

What a difference one small preposition can make.  Yesterday I posted about mythological havoc “in” Heaven but today I’m thinking of the very real havoc that came down “from” heaven this past Tuesday in Ottawa.  The region got 52 cm (2 feet) of snow in less than 24 hours beating the previous record of 40.6 cm back in 1947*.  I say record but anyone who was around in January 1894 when they got 55.9 or  November of 1912 when 54.1 cm of fluffy white stuff blanketed the city would scoff at a mere 52 cm.

This video captures both the beauty of the storm and some of the havoc that resulted.

A Canadian Tuesday from Brandon McCarrell on Vimeo.

I won’t say a word about the plus 8C with sun and almost total melt we’re experienced on Tuesday in Charlottetown.  Fate can be a bitch when tempted and though it’s now in the minuses here it’s with bright sunshine and no snow in sight for the next few days – so let’s keep it that way.

Many thanks to my friend Judy for passing this on – just think when you get back week after next it will be all gone!

*Current records have been kept since the 1930s based on measurements at the Airport; the previous readings were at the Experimental Farm and apparently aren’t counted statistically.

On this day in 1953: Censorship: Georgia approves the first literature censorship board in the United States.

Exhibition Hopping – Part 1

Over the past two months I’ve seen three exhibitions that have shown the impressive curating teams at three of our Canadian museums. Two have been right here in Ottawa and the third in Montreal.

Gustave Doré: Master of Imagination – National Gallery of Canada

Traditionally the NGC attempts to mount a “blockbuster” for the summer months when the tourists are flocking to the National Capital to stare through the fences at the now inaccessible Parliament Buildings and manouveur the detours and construction that is Ottawa.  In past years it has included a Van Gogh Exhibition (with not a sunflower in sight!!) that drew the biggest crowds in the history of the Gallery.  This year’s Exhibition deserves to have a similar success but unfortunately a drop in tourism, road construction that makes access difficult and the sad fact that Doré is not a household name has meant that attendance has been disappointingly low.

The National Gallery and Musée d’Orsay used Doré’s well-known illustration of Le Chat botté as their poster for Gustave Doré: Master of Imagination.  A click on the picture will take you to their mini-site devoted to this exceptional exhibition.

If attendance has been low the quality of the exhibition is of the highest.  Of course Doré the illustrator is a known quantity: it is Doré the sculptor and, for me at least, Doré the landscape artist that astounds the most.  As you enter the exhibition area it is difficult to miss Poème de la vigne, the massive (4 metres high and weighing in at 6000 lbs) bronze that was brought to Ottawa on a flatbed from its home at the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.  But as is often the case as impressive as the large pieces are it is  the smaller exhibits that cause that little catch in the throat that says you are looking at a master at work.

Frolic (Leapfrog) is a bronze from 1881 – a brilliant piece of suspended animation.  Its form and fluidity are a prime example of the talents of the artist as more than an illustrator.  The delicate balance of the work is an astounding piece of calculation.

If his bronzes impressed it was his landscapes, particularly those of Scotland and the Pyrenees that came as a complete surprise.  Unfortunately I found that most of his religious paintings – and he did a great many – reeked of that faux-sanctitity that was typical of French art of the period.  But those landscapes! 

A range in the Pyrenees painted in 1860 – Doré’s landscapes are romanticism at its highest – and that is meant as a compliment.

Several years ago the summer show was a brilliant exhibition: The Great Parade: Portrait of the Artist as a Clown.   It celebrated the history of the circus with some 200 lithographs, paintings, photographs and sculptures.  Though Picasso’s overwhelming show curtain for Parade had me near tears with its sheer exuberant glory what stuck in my memory were two paintings of French street performers:   Grimaces et Misères (Les Saltimbanques) (1888) by Fernand Pelez and an earlier work by Doré: La famille du Saltimbanque: L’enfant blessé (The Family of Street Acrobats: the injured child (1874).  

 The artist’s comment on the painting removes any taint of maudlin sentiment and places the scene in the very real world:

He (the child) is dying.  I wished to depict the tardy awakening of nature in those two hardened, almost brutalized beings.  To gain money they have killed their child, and in killing him they have found out that they had hearts.

When curators Paul Lang, Édouard Papet and Phillipe Kaenel set up the exhibition they wanted to show the often overlooked influence that Doré has had over visual arts up to our own time.  In the work of cinema directors as diverse as George Méliès, Jean Cocteau, Cecil B. DeMille, Carol Reed, Terry Gilliam,  and Roman Polanski entire frames mirror the work of the Illustrator.   And the sway he has held over cartoonists and graphic artists to this day is another aspect of this remarkable man that, until now, has been neglected.

That rocket struck Moon in George Méliès La voyage dans la lune bears a more than passing resemblance to Dore’s Frost-Bitten Sun.

During a recent members’ night a series of Méliès’ films were shown including a Cendrillon which was Doré inspired by way of the Folies Bergère.   At times it was like one of Doré’s Contes de Fées come to life at other times pure escapism for the tired tycoon.  And the special effects were remarkable considering Méliès was working with one camera and very primitive techniques.  And a recent viewing of L’Inferno – the first full length silent film ever made in Italy – reveals that many of the tableau vivant and effects are straight out of Doré’s famous plates for Dante’s masterpiece.  And in more recent times take a look at that Dream Works Puss in Boots?  He remind you of anyone?

Two very different views of Street People by Doré.  Above:  London from a series of studies of Victorian London that accentuate the grim and smog laden atmosphere of the world’s largest city of the period.  Below:  The Beggars of Burgos, the former capital of Castille have a more romantic appearance than their Albion neighbours.   Doré’s views of Spain were to add to the Romantic notions the French seemed to harbour about the people beyond the Pyrenees.

There are only two weeks left before the exhibition ends (September 14) and I urge anyone in and around Ottawa to catch it while you can.  I certainly plan to make a visit in the next few days – once was not enough.

“How long must one be an illustrator before they become illustrious?” – Gustave Doré

August 30 – 1918: Fanni Kaplan shoots and seriously injures Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin. This, along with the assassination of Bolshevik senior official Moisei Uritsky days earlier, prompts the decree for Red Terror.

BBQ Bitches

BBQ on the MallIt’s time for the annual porcine and fowl flesh feast on the Sparks St. Mall – the Great Chicken and Rib Cookout. Every year around this time BBQ teams from the U.S. and Canada set up their pits on the Mall – normally three or four blocks from our offices. This year someone took pity on us poor Transport Canada workers and put three in the gardens at our end of the Mall.

Waiting for Bad Wolf’s Best Missouri Centennial Award Winning Alabama pulled-pork sandwich – very tasty I must admit – I overheard this snippet from three Somerset Gay Ghetto Boyz in line behind me.

1st SGGBoi: There aren’t any pretty boys down this end of the Mall!

2nd SGGBoi: What do you expect? Its Transport Canada.

Me: Yeah, but we’ve got brains and we’re all incredibly well–hung!

Okay I’d didn’t say that but I wanted to.

From the Office Window – Friday June 15, 2007

July 13 is my last day at work – only four weeks away. Emotions are mixed – I have worked with some of my colleagues for 30 years off and on. Many of us are on second careers – we started at Air Canada, retired and came back to work in the Government. From a few comments I’ve overhead some people are getting tired of going to my farewell lunches – my former sous-chef Molly figures this is number 4, that she can remember!

I know I will miss the people – old colleagues and new – and I will miss the incredible view – changing with every season – I have from the office windows.

Lebreton Flats and the War MuseumLebreton Flats – was once a crowded community of taverns, small businesses and company houses many owned by the E. B. Eddy Co. They were razed in the 1960’s to make way for … nothing until the War Museum was built in 2002. Plans have been approved and construction started on luxury condominiums and apartments and the developers are making a killing.

The Mill and Victoria IslandVictoria Island is the venue for most of this year’s National Aboriginal Day celebrations – some of the biggest names in the Native arts community are appearing from June 21-24. Before it became the site of lumber mills and factories the island had particularly significance for the tribes along the Ottawa River.

The Supreme CourtI wish the area around the Supreme Court were a little less austere but given what’s done there maybe its appropriate.

Alexandra and Interprovincal BridgesThere are only five bridges connecting Ottawa to Gatineau – four in the downtown and one in the West – rush hour traffic can be hell.

Beginning of the Sparks Street MallOur end of the Sparks Street Mall is all flower beds and trees – the cafes, restaurants and stores are a few blocks away.