Small Treasures

In preparation for the upcoming cruise and in an effort to cut down on luggage I’ve attempted to create this post using only the WordPress App and my iPad. It has certainly proved a challenge and I’m not sure how successful it will be on the voyage. 

Treasure [trezh-er]
1125-75; (noun) Middle English tresor < Old French < Latin thēsaurus storehouse, hoard (v.) Middle English, derivative of the noun

1. wealth or riches stored or accumulated, especially in the form of precious metals, money, jewels, or plate.
2. wealth, rich materials, or valuable things.
3. any thing or person greatly valued or highly prized:

Verb: (used with object), treasured, treasuring.
4. to retain carefully or keep in store, as in the mind.
5. to regard or treat as precious; cherish.
6. to put away for security or future use, as money.

While making a desperate attempt to clean out the room we so grandly call “the office” I came across an old jewellery box of my mother’s.  Knowling my friend Lara’s fondness for costume bling I took it into work and she raided it to find brooches, baubles, bangles and the odd set of beads tha would suit the style we’ve come to know as “My god Lara can pull it off!”

Amongst the faux stone glitter and fool’s gold filigree I found three items that I account as small treasures. The first I recall from the time I was a child to the day my mother died;  the second I don’t every remember seeing before but makes perfect sense to anyone who knew my mother; and the third puzzles me and begs several questions.

This compact sat on my mother’s dressing table along with a hairbrush and a hand mirror for as long as I can remember.  A map of her birth country is traced on it with the traditional symbols of the harp and the shamrock.  I doubt that she had it with her when she emigrated from Belfast as a young girl in 1919.   Perhaps she brought it back with her from her trip in 1925 when she went to Ireland to tell her family she was getting married.    For some reason I found myself oddly touched when I opened it up and found unused powder and the mesh puff that she had used to apply it – always sparingly even in her old age.  IT would never do to be too powdered and painted.

The compact is tranished and shows signs of frequent use but I’ve resisted the temptation to clean it up.  I’m not sure what I’ll do with it now that it’s been rediscovered but at the moment it’s a gentle reminder of my Mother and the place where she was born.  In an amusing touch of serendipity it points to all the places we are planning to visit next year.

And the influence of Ireland, or at the least Ulster, accorded for much of what made up my mother’s personal beliefs when it can to state and church.   There was the Monarchy and there was a very Protestant God – and both where upheld and championed by the Loyal Orange Lodge.   This relict of another age was once a powerful and important lobby in many parts of the country and no more so  than in the City of Toronto.  There was a time when you could not get a job with the city unless you were a member of the “Orange”.   My mother was very much a member of that worthy, if highly bigoted, organization.  Lodge Night was a very important one for her  – and I looked forwarded to it too.   Until she founded a branch lodge in our neighbourhood it meant that one Friday a month my father and I would accompany her downtown and we’d have dinner at Diana Sweets on Yonge Street.   She would go off to her meeting and my father and I would head off to Loews or the Imperial for the latest Martin and Lewis picture or even on one occasion the Laurence Olivier Richard the Third.  After she became Worthy Mistress (sort of like Madame Chairman) of the Lodge in our neighbourhood Fridays nights were less fun.

In 1939 their Royal Majesties George VI and Queen Elizabeth were on a Royal Tour of Canada  and to commenorate the occasion the L.O.L. had a medal (in tin but a medal none the less) cast.   Their Majesties featured on the obverse  – the King captured more accurately than his good lady.

And though the Tour had ended on June 15 that did not stop the “Order” from linking the Royal visit to that seminal event in the history of the organization:  the Protestant victory at  The Battle of the Boyne.  The reverse shows the hero of that long ago battle – King Billy leading his troops as indeed he – or some one on a horse attired like him – would lead the parade on the 12th of July.

Anyone who did not grow up in an Ontario town of any size cannot fathom what the “Glorious 12th” was like in those days.  In Toronto it meant that Queen Street was closed for the 5 kilometres from the Old City Hall to the Dufferin Gates at the Exhibition grounds. Led by the faux-Billy all the Lodges in the city, mighty with banners, marched through town to the sounds of fife and drum bands playing such immortal pieces as “The Sash My Father Wore” and  “The Orange Maid of Sligo”.   It would take this procession of ladies in white summer dresses, gentlemen in dark flannels , white shit and tie – all of them sporting that sash their father worn – upwards of two hours to pass any given point.  Believe me their numbers were legion. When they reached the Exhibition Grounds they  celebrated the Monarchy and the victory of the True Faith with picnic lunches, songs and speaches reminding them that they were British subjects and to be vigilant in protecting Canada from the pernicious influence of the Church of Rome.

The third treasure has me puzzled. I have no idea where it came from or who it belonged to. And anyone who could shed any light on it is long gone.

Apparently this is a train conductor’s pocket watch made by the Waltham Watch Company, once one of the major watch makers in the world. Using the serial number – every Waltham product had one – a local jeweller was able to trace the manufacturing date to 1912. It would appear that at one time it had been gold plated though much of the plating has worn off and again I have resisted the urge to give it a “good cleaning”.

So we have discovered it’s provenance but the real mystery is how did it get into my mother’s jewellery box? To the best of my knowledge no one in my family was ever a train conductor or had anything to do with the railways other than as a mode of transportation. Who did it belong to in the family? My father? Doubtful though that could explain why she kept it. One of my mother’s brothers? All but one lived in Belfast and Ulster was not renowned for it’s train service then or now. My father’s father? To be honest, other than being a nasty old man, I have no idea what my grandfather’s occupation was. He had retired to the comfort of days spent in the Men’s beverage room at the Gladstone Hotel by the time I was born.

But you know that may be a clue. Across from the Gladstone – now a boutique hotel – stood the old Parkdale Train Station. The poker games at the Gladstone were popular affairs with the gentlemen in the neighbourhood. Is it possible that he won it from one of the workers across the road in a game of five card draw? I think I’ll go with that one until something better – or the truth – comes along.

As to what will become of these treasures now that they have been found, it’s hard to say. It would seem a shame to hide them away again but lacking bibelot cabinets I’m not sure what else can be done with them. That will be a mystery to be solved another day.

On this day in 1835: the HMS Beagle, with Charles Darwin aboard, reaches the Galápagos Islands.

Whitsun 2009 – This and That

The old town of Salzburg is known for its shop signs not only on the famous Getreidegasse but on the side streets leading off the Domplatz and Residenzplatz. Here are a few of them plus some randoms thoughts about the past few days.

  • It’s rather strange that in Italy, where so many rules are ever so gently skirted, the non-smoking policies are strictly observed in bars and restaurants, while in Austria smoking is allowed everywhere. I had forgotten that there are no smoking restrictions in most places in Austria. And boy do those Austrians love to smoke – the air at the Cafe Bazar on a rainy Friday afternoon was a delicate shade of nicotine gray. The other thing that I’ve noticed in Austria is the number of drunks – particularly near the train stations – you see on the streets. A drunk is something you very rarely see in Italy unless its a young tourist freed from the restrictions of home – generally Italians don’t drink to get drunk but as an enjoyment.

  • After 30 odd years – and I do mean odd – I guess Laurent and I have habits that we don’t even think about anymore. On Saturday afternoon we were having lunch at Nordsee – a fast food fish restaurant chain – and a young lad at the next table was watching us with some bemusement. I wasn’t finishing my vegetables and Laurent was absent-mindedly spearing roast potatoes from my plate as we talked. I guess every old couple has these little quirks..

  • I was in Salzburg BTSOM (Before the Sound of Music) – my first visit was in August of 1969 when most people were coming for the Festival or to visit the house were little Wolfgang sprang into the world presenting it with a symphony he had written during delivery. Two years later the town had been taken over by blue-haired ladies of both sexes, some dragging long-suffering spouses along, on their pilgrimage to see the sacred spot where Christopher Plummer had kissed Julie Andrews, the place where they were married and the Von Trapp family schloss. Now almost 40 years later it is still a big industry in town – if it doesn’t have Mozart’s picture on it, guaranteed it will have Julie Andrews skipping over hills that are alive! Even the world famous Salzburg Marionette Theatre does a wooden puppet production – though a few cynics ask how that is any different from the film?

  • People can be deceiving – take the audience at the Festival. They appear to be a conservative, even slightly dour, group of upper middle class people in the 60-65 range. That is not to say there aren’t young people in the audience its just that this sort of Festival and its rather pricy tickets do attract a certain demographic. The dress is conservative and there is often a whiff of mothballs as evening dresses and shawls are pulled out of armoires for the annual airing. When not sporting tuxedoes Gentlemen tend to wear suits, even to the morning concerts, and many Austrian men wear their formal trachten and the ladies are garbed in elaborate dirndls which can be stunningly beautiful but are still very traditional. When you reach your seat it is still considered good manners to greet the people on either side of you with a good morning or evening and even to say auf wiedersen on leaving – though the strolling counter clockwise in the reception room I recall from my first visit has given way to the general bustle of any theatre lobby.

    As I said very traditional and conservative – until it comes time to pay tribute to the performers. At that point decorum is thrown of the Untersberg – cheers ring out, feet are stamped rhythmically and the applauding and bravoing can go on for a good 10 or 15 minutes. This is an audience that knows its music and what it likes – and when they like a performer they are not shy about letting them know. One of the joys of this Festival is seeing the smiles of the musicians as they are called out for the fifth or sixth time. There must be a great feeling of satisfaction to feel that much appreciation and love sent in your direction.

  • Its been a long time since I have stayed in a hotel like the Bristol – probably the last time was over 25 years ago at the old Plaza Hotel in New York. The Bristol is still family owned and operated and nothing, and I do mean nothing, is too good for its guests. Frau Doctor Hubner, the charming owner, and her son seem to be on duty 24 hours – though I’m sure they do get some rest. In conversation with the Frau Doctor she mentioned that the first thing she looked for in an employee was a love of people, everything else could be taught. They do not have a large staff but a very dedicated and exceptional one and there isn’t one of them that doesn’t live up to her requirement. Take Gunter, the young bar man. Tall, slender, boyish, a bit gangly, he has a smile that lights up the room and an open desire to make sure his guests are happy – and boy can he mix a martini.

01 guigno – Santi Marcellino e Pietro

Milano – Some Observations …

… and some photos.

This is now my fourth trip to Milano but each time there are three things that are always guaranteed to take my breath away:

The sight of La Scala across the Piazza della Scala

That great “drawing room” of Europe – the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.

The Duomo as you enter the Piazza from any direction.
  • This time of year Milano is a city of roses. I was amazed by the varieties available in neighborhood plant stores and more by the beds of them that served as medians on the city streets.
The second of the many courtyards of the Castello – its an incredible complex.

This fun 16th century autotron was created from an earlier wood sculpture body (a Christ figure) with the Devil’s head added to it.

A stunning example of woodworking – a left click will give you a close up of the incredible detailing.

I don’t know why but I just have a feeling that the singer in this painting is more Katherine Jenkins than Maria Callas!

  • I had never been to the Castello Sforzesco though how I could miss the enormous fortress and its great park in the middle of the city I’m not sure. There are seven museums plus the fortress to explore – for only E3.00 ($4.50) – and it was crowded last Saturday. I managed three of the museums – Ancient Art, the Pinacoteca and the Furnishings – before I got museum fatigue. Maybe I’ll get a chance to see more the next trip back.
  • It may be its fashion centre but Milano also has to be the botox capital of Italy, if not Europe. I have never seen so many bloated lips and stretched brows in my life. Sadly one is reminded of an exchange from Sheridan’s The School for Scandal:

    Lady Sneerwell: … and surely that’s better than the careless manner in which the Widow Ochre caulks her wrinkles.

    Sir Benjamin Backbite: Nay, now, Lady Sneerwell, you are severe upon the widow. Come, come, ’tis not that she paints so ill — but, when she has finished her face, she joins it on so badly to her neck, that she looks like a mended statute, in which the connoisseur may see at once that the head is modern, though the trunk’s antique.

  • The boxes (palchi) at La Scala were never meant for comfort; small, narrow and cramped they are an effort to extract the highest price from the maximum number of people under the guise of old-world romance. And though I still get a certain thrill as the crow-black garbed, gold chained usher unlocks the door to give me access to my place, after sitting for 90 minutes in a slightly contorted position to get a full view of the stage I greatly envy those in the orchestra who have paid the same price or even the gallery who have paid considerably less. I felt particularly sorry for the gentleman behind me who spent most of the performance on his feet craning to get a view of the stage. And though I recall doing exactly the same thing one evening at the Palais Garnier in Paris I don’t recall paying E120.00 ($180.00) for the privilege.

    The one pleasure a palco can give you is good company. And I had good company on Friday evening: a charming – and I might add for the lady, beautiful older woman – couple from Cannes and a gentleman from Aix-en-Provence. We spent the evening sharing memories and opinions of singers, festivals and music in fractured French, Italian and English – it was polyglot but we all spoke the language of opera and it added great social pleasure to a musically pleasurable evening.

  • It is incredible that the washrooms at the elegant Savini in the Galleria, which charges E19 for a Chicken Caesar, were a disgusting mess – to the point where I would not use them; while those at MacDonald’s across the way, which charges considerably less for the same thing, are spotless. There is something to be said for corporate standards.
  • As I was walking towards Piazza San Marco a little girl – maybe 8 years old – in a blue church scout uniform came running up to me. Proffering a small bag of homemade cookies she rather rapidly and breathlessly tried to explain that she was selling them for her scout group. When I told her I spoke French or English but not much Italian it didn’t stop her for a mintue. She just slowed down a bit and tried to remember how to count in French. They cost “une … deux … (her friend nudged her and whispered “trois”) trois!” I only had a five euro note and I gave it to her. Again she struggled to tell me she owed me deux euros. As she ran to get change I called over to the leader that it was okay, I didn’t want the change. That little girl’s efforts to communicate were worth much more than two euros. A lesson I should learn.

17 maggio – San Pasquale Baylon

Parlo del Piu e del Meno

A few random things and a handful more Barcelona photos – I’ve got 427 of them. I do get fixated on the oddest things at times, this time it was street lamps.

The broad pedestrian mall leading up to the Arc di Triomfe – another hold over from the 1888 World Exposition – is lined with fanciful lamp posts. They appear to be an attempt, perhaps not with total success, to wed Beaux Arts with the emerging Art Nouveau style.

  • Its been a hard winter here in Roma and spring has been a long time coming. It seems that it started raining sometime back in October and not a day went by without rain of some sort until this past week. Perhaps it was just a shower but often as not there were wild, almost tropical, thunder storms with pelting rain, high winds and wonderful displays of electric lightening. And thought the temperature rarely dips below zero the buildings hold that damp cold that marble and terra cotta seem to attract. At one point we witnessed the Tiber rising 50 feet overnight and almost breaching its banks here in the city. But we are not the only ones who got the stuffing knocked out of us – Venice had the worst Aqua Alta in 30 years, Palermo in Sicily had snow and not just a light dusting – it stayed, Calabria was battered by storms that cause mud slides, cargo boats were ripped from moors in Genova and the north had record snow falls that were great for skiing but hell for driving.

    And as I mentioned spring has not been in any hurry to show up – after having stored the winter blankets away two weeks ago I found myself hustling them out Easter weekend. And this past week we have been using a space heater to warm the bedroom area as heat is turned off in most buildings come April 15. One sad effect of the deluges and late spring is that the wisteria that climbs so many buildings is not as lush as it was last year. But today it seems like spring is finally here – please god I’m not tempting fate by saying it.

In the old historical centre of Barcelona you can almost tell the district you’re in by the street lamps. Often striking examples of the iron monger’s art they are just another feature in a city rich in architectural detail.
  • Strange item in today’s il Giornale with the leader: Stop the anarchy of take-away! It appears that the governing Legge Nord Party in Lombardy is closing down kabob and donair restaurants in the region. Before anyone could jump to conclusions they issued a statement saying: It isn’t racism, its a matter of public health. Racism – the Legge, my goodness who would ever make that assumption. And just to make sure they say they’re going to do the same to take-out pizza places and gelato stands. Meanwhile editorials and letters to the editor are mocking the move, comedians are having a field day and a several eat-ins have been planned with the cry: Kabobs for Free! Kabobs for All! You would think that with a country in crisis there would be more important things for politicians to busy themselves with than Kabobs but apparently not.

As well as the glorious buildings of Gaudi, smart shops and trendy restaurants Passeig de Gracia is lined with these fanciful lamp posts. Again perhaps not with total success the Industrial Age meets Art Nouveau.

  • It was a little unsettling last year when Mr Berlusconi said that the army would replace the Caribinari standing guard over Embassies and Ambassadors’ residences. His expressed reasoning was that the Cabribinari could then go about their real business of catching bad guys and Mafia chiefs. The army boys – and anyone under 21 I consider a boy – are dressed in camouflage and carry machine guns. As our friend Robert said when this first came about: getting the public use to seeing the army in the streets is a tactic not unknown in Italy in the last century. Most of the young lads at the Residence near us will nod in greeting as they get to know that you live in the neighborhood, in fact I was surprised that one actually cracked a joke with me last Saturday night. I was coming home around 9 pm with a bouquet of tulips for Laurent’s arrival and a big, burly, young private gave me a big smile and said: For me, you shouldn’t have! We all had a good laugh.

    But one thing I’ve noticed when it rains – even just a sprinkle – the boys run for cover in the jeep parked nearby. Do their uniforms run if they get wet? Would that matter with camis? Has the government not issued them rain wear? And who’s protecting the Ambassador while they’re snug and warm?

23 aprile – Santa Renata di Lorena

Parlo del Piu e del Meno

Via Rodolfo Belerizani
As well as a few random thoughts and events I thought I’d post pictures of the doorways of the Renaissance palazzi that line Via Rodolfo Belerizani in Trento. These marvelous Renaissance buildings have been preserved and adapted to modern usage and the street, in fact the whole historic town centre, is reserved primarily for pedestrians. But then this is normal in most towns in Italy.

A Renaissance doorwayA Renaissance doorway

  • When I complain or whine – yes I know its hard to imagine me doing either – about life here in Italy most people suggest I look at a few of my own pictures. And I must admit they do paint a rather romantic tourist view of la Bella Italia. And there is much to enjoy here – food, music, wine (yes I’ve broken down one or two times), history, beauty and people. But there is also much here that frustrates both the Ex-pats and, at times even, the Italians. And to prove the point Bruno Bossetto made this little film. It sums it all up perfectly.

A Renaissance DoorwayA Renaissance Doorway

  • I’ve mentioned before that when you buy your subscription for the opera season here, except for the first night, you can never be sure what cast you’re going to get. So far we’ve hit it lucky but I just knew our luck would run out eventually. Carmen is coming up later this month and three tenors – no not The Three Tenors Lorraine, this isn’t that much like PBS – were announced to sing Don Jose. One of them is Andrea Bocelli. He will be singing on June 20th, our subscription night.

    Now first let me say I have nothing against Andrea Bocelli so I don’t want all sorts of flames thrown. For what he is – a popular singer – I think he’s just fine and I’m glad he has had a successful career. And I can forgive him for singing with Sarah Brightman and Celine Dion. But when he’s hired as what he isn’t, that bothers me. Sorry but he’s not an opera singer – he is someone who sings operatic arias in concert. And performing in a concert setting as a solo performer is very different from a staged production with other soloists, chorus and full orchestra. And Don Jose is a killer role – dramatically and musically. And I honestly question if his voice is big enough to fill an opera house without amplification.

    Subscription tickets cannot be exchanged – a practice which I find strange and may be particular to Italy – and it was suggested that we just not go. However that would be condemning someone without giving them a chance. So we’ll go, hopefully be able to put aside any prejudices or preconceived notions and report back honestly at some point.

A Renaissance DoorwayA Renaissance Doorway

  • A week ago today two things changed in my life. Last Tuesday I received my Permeso di Soggiorno, which means I am finally legally in Italy. Don’t even ask what I was before! Basically it means my presence is recognized by the Italian Government and that I can now work in Italy.

    Which brings us to the second change – coincidentally the same day I started getting up at 0615 so I could be to work on time. Yes I said work! I now have a job! I am no longer a man of leisure. Oh how the mighty have fallen. Its a short term contract working at the Embassy for the next two months – Monday to Friday – 0800 to 1700. I like to think of it as a summer job to pay for all those opera jaunts hither and yon – though my friend Jon Penner says it makes me an opera-whore????

    What ever effect it may have in my moral standing in the world, sadly it means I have a little less time to work on some of the postings I’ve been thinking about. But I’m still going to try and keep things up to date – if I don’t collapse the minute I get home from the stress of – gasp, groan, shudder – working!

Renaissance Doorway
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