Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Costa Rica rain

The sudden downpour soaked me to the skin and thoroughly wet my leather purse through to my passport, which was in an inner pocket. A local woman described this as a mild and welcome shower, the first in about five months.

The rainy season here can brings about more drastic conditions. When the rain is heavy, there is nowhere for the rainwater to go during the four hours of high tide. Nobody walks or attempts to drive during heavy rainstorms, which usually hit in October and November.

Fortunately,  for the last two years, the rains around Playa Guiones have been relatively mild. The year before, though, brought a strong rainy season that flooded houses and shops, washed away bridges, and obliterated the highway through Nosara, replacing it with a raging river. Costa Rica's roads are bumpy; now I know this is due to the dried and packed mud from the latest rains.

I was also told that a few weeks ago the area experienced a heavy windstorm that blew a lot of unripe mangoes and other fruit from the trees, diminishing the year's supply.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Guanacaste tree

Left: This tree is big enough to shelter a village.

For the people of Costa Rica, the guanacaste has cultural significance as well as practical use. It symbolizes equilibrium, renewal, faith and stability, and suggests both the transience of human life and sacred spiritual consciousness. The national tree is also a source of water-resistant wood, animal fodder, ersatz soap and medicines. Macaws, mice, parrots, howler monkeys and various insects call it home.

Right: The "monkey ear" seed pods are used to make maracas and beads. 

A member of the legume family, the enterolobium cyclocarpum also grows amazingly fast. The tree below, which provides shade for the deck of a small restaurant,  is only about sixty years old. The trunk of the guanacaste reaches six to ten feet in width. The rounded canopy is wider than the tree is high.The name, from the Aztec language Nahuatl, means ear tree, and is also the name of the province of Costa Rica where the tree thrives.

Rising by the Howler Monkey Alarm

Photo: A howler strolls through the tree canopy at dawn, commenting on what he sees.

Just back from Bio-energy teacher training at Blue Spirit in Costa Rica. Our group arrived at midnight on the day before the course began.

When I went to my room, I realized that my phone had no connectivity and I had no alarm. We were to begin at 6 am. How would I wake up in time for the first day's lessons?

I needn't have worried. The howler monkeys were on the job at dawn. I was aroused at 5:30 by the vociferous cries of these delightful creatures right outside my window.

When I opened the shutters, the first thing I saw was a mother monkey strolling through a nearby tree with a baby on her back. That sighting, accompanied by the sound of her howling mate, was a wonderful way to begin my time in Costa Rica. The monkeys in the troop were good enough to wake me at the same time each day. Thanks, Monkeys!

Each evening at dusk, these unusually noisy animals make a few more remarks. The rest of the time, they sleep.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Sight Unseen by Robert Goddard

Book cover image from Dooyoo (Corgi, 2005)

David Umber is "a man fleeing the past as well as pursuing it." He gets in a lot of hot water along the way -- so much that it looks like there's no way out. Worse, he fears he is pulling others down with him, a familiar feeling for this sensitive and traumatized man.

The story begins at the ancient stone circle of Avebury, where neolithic people built a henge. The history of this stone circle, like that of many other henges in the UK, has been obscured by time.

Goddard describes the ancient settlement as "a landscape where the unexplained and the inexplicable lie still and close, where man-made markers of a remote past mock the set and ordered world that is merely the flickering, fast-fleeing present."

Even so, what began on that warm Avebury afternoon was "of an order that did not allow for genuine forgetting." Many years later, it remains in the mind of David Umber, "simply there, always, pulling him back, dragging him down." This memory has become the dominant fact of his life, and all he can do in the face of it is to refine his "tactics of evasion."

Umber keeps well away from anything that might remind him, until he is sought out by the retired policeman George Sharp, who appears at his obscure hideout in Prague. That's when Umber, the failed historian, begins to unearth the part of his own past that he has tried so hard to bury.

George Sharp has new information on an ancient case. Now retired from the police force, he is no longer obliged to abide by its rules. A man with a mission, he wants Umber as an ally.

Sharp understands Umber's reluctance to reopen old wounds. In an effort to make the task easier, he invites his associate to re-frame the passage of time not as a disadvantage, but as "a blessing" that will help them unveil the mystery. Time, says the old copper, reveals a pattern, and uncovering that pattern can lead to the truth.

Making an effort to overcome his unwillingness, David Umber does what he knows he must. He follows Sharp into the minefield of memories. The death of David's ex-wife Sally was found by the coroner to be an accident, but was it really? Could it have been suicide, or worse?

Sally's best friend Alice, a veteran of the Greenham Common protest, doesn't trust the authorities. Edmund Quested, the second wife of a bereaved mother, tried to protect her on the day of Sally's funeral by choosing not to pass on a certain phone message.

David Umber must rake up all this and more, because, as he reminds an unwilling Alice she once told him, "the right thing to do is the only thing to do." With this idea, he perseveres in what he has come to see as a necessary quest. Reconnecting with the Junius papers, his original PhD research subject, brings him a small glimmering of hope.

As he sets out for the Staffordshire records office to check up on a historic detail, he is conscious of an inner shift. "Too often in the past, he had failed to follow his instincts." Now he is determined that he will. This decision brings him to Henry Griffin, the brother of the man who failed to show up for an appointment in Avebury twenty years before.

When Umber realizes that this information is another blind alley, he nearly falls into despair. But progress becomes possible again in the form of an unexpected invitation to see someone who's been avoiding him. "He could not ignore the summons. He could not resist the bait."

In this final effort, he breaks through to a truth that helps to set him free. For the first time since the original tragedy, David Umber glimpses a fragile hope of true and lasting inner peace.

As usual, Robert Goddard provides a satisfyingly nuanced and multi-layered tale with sympathetic and believable characters. He also keeps the reader guessing till the very end.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Bluenose

Bluenose II image, the Chronicle Herald

A national icon found in the Canadian imagination as well as on the dime, the Bluenose was a fast schooner launched in Lunenberg, Nova Scotia, in 1921. She won the Fisherman's Race race the same year and for the next 17 years, holding the title against both American and Canadian vessels.

The pride of the Nova Scotia shipbuilding industry became known as the "Queen of the North Atlantic." In 1933, she represented the Century of Progress theme at the World's Fair in Chicago. Iin 1935 she sailed to England in honour of the Silver Jubilee of the King, George V.

As well as enjoying pride of place on the dime since 1937, the ship has been featured on three postage stamps. Her image still adorns the license plates of Nova Scotians. A replica, the Bluenose II, was built after the first ship was decommissioned.

Stan Rogers, the legendary Canadian folksinger, even wrote a song to celebrate the ship "with her picture on a dime." The song also contains a reminder that she was "the last of the Grand Banks schooners that fed so many men" before the severe decline of the East Coast fishery.

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Mary Ellen Carter

An Image of the mythical Mary Ellen Carter on Paul Sirman's album cover, from Chantey Cabin.

The song by Canadian folk hero Stan Rogers begins with the sinking of the Mary Ellen Carter by a drunken skipper and mate, and proceeds through the efforts of a group of men to raise her from the sea bed.

It is sung here by Stan himself, and was also sung by the legendary Irish folk artist and poetic soul Liam Clancy

Anyone who is suffering from adversity can relate to this inspirational song, which ends with a ringing exhortation to overcome:

"No matter what you've lost, be it a home, a love, a friend,
Like the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again."

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Sea Witch

Photo of Model of the Sea Witch from Piet Craftsmen.

The Sea Witch was a clipper ship built in New York in 1846. The design was innovative and the ship was famously fast.

With Captain Robert Wateman in command, she undertook record-breaking runs. Her two fastest journeys between New York and Canton stand to this day as the fastest ever for a ship under sail.

In the days before the Panama Canal (completed 1914), the Sea Witch was also the first to travel between New York and San Francisco by way of Cape Horn in less than a hundred days. By 1848, the gold rush was under way, and speed was of the essence for delivery of supplies to what would two years later become the state of California.

The first of the clippers, the Sea Witch definitely made good time. According to Melbourne Smith, her pace was about double that of contemporary sailing vessels.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


The captain is Fitcher Penrose, and his quest is for the Golden Camellia, a plant unique to China. He has a painting of it, and knows it is real. Besides being a thing of great beauty, this is a valuable botanical for its many healing properties.

Penrose is from Cornwall, and his vessel, the Redruth, is imaginary, dreamed up by the novelist Amitav Ghosh for his trilogy about the opium trade and Opium Wars.

In Ghosh's nineteenth-century tale, The Redruth was a nursery ship, fitted out for carrying plants. Instigated by naturalists like Charles Darwin and Sir Joseph Banks, many such vessels plied the oceans during this era, carrying plants from one continent to the other for sale and to improve botanical gardens like Kew.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


Image of opium ships off Lintin Island, 1836, by William Huggins

This is what novelist Amitav Ghosh's imagined vessel, the Ibis would have looked like, waiting with many other opium ships off Canton to unload their cargoes of India-produced opium onto the fast crabs that would take it to shore.

That is, until  1839, when Commissioner Lin Xexu, under orders from the government in Beijing, got serious about ridding China of the powerful and destructive drug that was turning the Pearl River into the River of Smoke.

I'm uncertain why Ghosh chose the name for his ship, which is first a slaver, then an opium ship. The word ibis is the name of a sub-family of large wading birds. 

Monday, April 22, 2013


Modern Argo photo from Classical Bookworm

Perhaps the legendary Argo on which Jason voyaged in quest of the Golden Fleece was a real ship. After all Troy, for long considered a place of legend, turned out to be a real city.

For a reconstructed Argo, the 2008 voyage had glitches, but of a different kind from those of the original journey. No Sirens, no Cyclops. And according to the Telegraph, the storms were all political.

Greek Reporter stated in February this year that another voyage may soon be attempted.

I wonder how often the Toronto Argonauts ponder on the illustrious marines from whom their football team derives its name.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Mary Celeste

Picture from the Thomas Berry Library, in the Examiner

I remember it as the Marie Celeste, because of a story written about this mysterious vessel. The images from tale have stayed with me: the hot food half-eaten on the table and the crew mysteriously vanished.

The short story was published in 1884 and it earned the handsome sum of forty pounds for its author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Perhaps the publication of this tale gave a leg up to the struggling writer; it would be 1892  before he published the first stories of Sherlock Holmes.

The Mary Celeste was a real ship. En route from New York to Genoa, it was found abandoned off Portugal -- nobody could imagine why.

However, David Williams, a sea captain, has developed a theory. He believes that severe jerking of the ship as the result of the column of water driven up by a seaquake was the reason the occupants of the ship fled onto a small boat.

Seaquakes can cause violent movement of water; some believe they can even account for whale beachings.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Bird of Dawning

The Bird of Dawning was fictitious, but it would have resembled the 19th century China clippers that raced cargoes of tea across oceans.

Between 1930 and 1967, John Masefield was Britain's Poet Laureate. His well-known poem, "Sea Fever," was in our high school English book, and I remember its opening lines still.

During my prairie childhood, and later by the great Skeena River, these haunting lines exposed vistas of worlds unknown:

"I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by."

The Bird of Dawning is a classic seafaring novel, published by Masefield in 1933. It takes place in the Atlantic in the 1860s, during a tea race. The crew of a ship sunk in a storm survive at sea for a time before they come upon the Bird of Dawning, abandoned in mid-ocean.

What has happened to the crew? The possibilities are chilling, and the survivors of the wreck must face them down. It's a gripping tale that enjoyed great success, both at the time of publication and afterwards.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Waddeson Manor

It's been a year since a friend from Oxford took me to see Waddeson Manor.

Images of our sunny showery day of fun, adventure and good companionship keep returning through this year's tulip season. Left, I pose before a small portion of the former stable block, now a restaurant.

Below, a corner of the ornate main house is flanked by red tulips and fan palms.

The stunning beauty of this stately home, garden and grounds is only hinted at by these pictures. It was designed and built for Baron Ferdinand Rothschild, who bought the land it stands on -- then a farm -- in 1874.

A Jewish banker, the Baron was born in Paris and grew up in Frankfurt and Vienna. His marriage to his English cousin Evelina ended tragically when she died in childbirth along with their baby. The couple had been married only eighteen months.

In spite of the contemporary prejudice against people of Jewish origin, Rothschild became a Liberal Member of Parliament and was at the center of a group of artistic and political friends. Among the many famous visitors to Waddeson were Queen Victoria and Guy de Maupassant.

Desiring a country house to entertain in and to house his art collection, Rothschild hired a French architect to design Waddeson Manor. Beginning with the Bachelor's wing, the house was built between 1887 and 1883. Another wing consisting of the Morning room and two bedroom suites was added in 1891. Ferdinand de Rothschild filled it with exquisite works of art and began hosting weekend parties. He was also a great gardener.

Ferdinand had no children; after he died, his sister Alice, who had come to live with him following the death of his wife, inherited the home. She preserved her brother's art collection and improved the lovely garden. But Alice too, was childless, and after her death in 1922 the estate went to a grand-nephew in France.

James de Rothschild and his wife Dorothy added a golf course and a stud farm for racehorses during their time at the home. During World War II, the couple retreated to the original Bachelor's wing, and left the rest of the house to accommodate children who were evacuated from London.

This couple also had no descendants, and James decided to leave the home to the National Trust, along with its artwork, 165-acre garden, and a huge bequest that would ensure its maintenance. His wife, Dorothy, chaired the maintenance committee and she oversaw the renovation of various parts of the stately home.

The ground floor was opened to the public in 1959, and over the next 30 years, other parts of the house were gradually added to the tour portion.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny

Image from Louise Penny's Website

"Who is it, exactly, you have needed all these years to forgive?"

The question is a line written by an elderly alcoholic poet in one of her poems, and she quotes it as she stares at the crime scene tape.

A lot of characters have much forgiving to do, and most of them need to be forgiven too.

Olivier has been wrongfully convicted and had to spend some time in jail before being exonerated. Has he forgiven Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surete du Quebec for putting him away?

Now that she's succeeded as an artist, and had her show at the Musee d'Art Contemporain in Montreal, Clara needs to forgive her ex-friend Lillian, who discouraged her artistic pursuits by writing a nasty review about her work. Or is it too late for that?

Art dealer Denis Fortin also suffered from one of Lilian's nasty reviews. Has he forgiven her, now that she's dead? Actually, Fortin himself has also got something on his conscience. Before she became a success, he trashed Clara's art and cancelled her show, setting her career back. Can he apologize now, and talk her into letting him represent her after all?

What about Clara's husband Peter? He has something on his conscience. In a moment of artistic jealousy, he did something nasty to his wife and she never found out. They weren't married at the time; still, he has yet to confess and ask forgiveness.

And then there are the alcoholics -- Suzanne, Thierry, Brian -- all on Step 9 of the AA program, trying to make their amends.

Oh yes, and the Surete detectives themselves. Isn't there just a little something between the Chief and his Inspector, Jean Guy Beauvoir, that needs to be healed by forgiveness?

Not to mention the need they both have to forgive themselves for things that happened during a life-threatening shoot-out in a warehouse that left both of them wounded in body and soul.

Chiaroscuro. Light and shadow. Evil deeds and forgiveness. Is the spark of light a sign of redemption? Or is it just a trick of the light? That's what this book is about.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Tunnel of bloom

A rainy spring day and falling cherry and magnolia petals turned Burrard Street Station into a tunnel of bloom and a blizzard of petals.

In White Rock, sun broke through spring cloud to shine on a lane of cherry blossom.

What could be more beautiful?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Pennies on the railroad track

I was walking along the beach in spring weather when I saw a gaggle of kids hanging off the fence that divides the promenade from the railroad tracks. All were looking toward Crescent Beach at the still distant triple headlights of an oncoming train. There was chatter, and then a little one scampered over and laid a penny on the rail.

Flashback. I was in Terrace on a hot summer morning, watching with my brother while the flatcars were shunted in to the mill yard and loaded with poles. That day, we waited a long time for the train to pass in front of us. We put down three pennies, and waited.

Today I paused, turning the inner clock back as I entered the absorption of the kids, the impressive sight of the noisy engine bearing down, the necessary ritual of waving at the distant and elevated engineer and seeing only a white hand wave in return. As expected, his face remained obscure in the glare of evening sunlight.

I missed the moment of impact; a kid fidgeted at the wrong moment, and obscured my view. I waited a few minutes, but it was a long train. After awhile, I continued my walk.

That train must have taken at least ten minutes to pass. Those poor kids needed to be very patient. I wonder if they found their flattened penny.

Years ago, we searched the gravel between and beside the rails. We found only two of our three pennies. One had got knocked sideways but the other passed right under the iron wheels, and it was satisfactorily squashed. If you hadn't seen it before, you'd never have known it was more than a and misshapen wafer of metal.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Whittling -- a thing of the past?

Photo: Whittling a ball in a cage by Dr. Terry Trier

Dad was a great whittler. He used to make us whistles in the spring, from fragrant willow twigs. When the sap was running right, he could slide the skin along the slippery cambium of wood and make birdlike sounds.

My brother had a jackknife, and I had one too. He whittled some, but I never did.

How many people still whittle? Not many, I suspect.

Some do, though. In fact, interested whittlers can learn how to make a willow whistle on You Tube

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Seagull on the railroad track

Gulls often stand on the railway track at White Rock, but it's rare that one allows a photographer to get this close.

This one is all fluffed up against the chilly spring wind.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Murder and other acts of literature

Book image from amazon

This delightful Book-of-the month-club selection, edited by Michele Slung, is subtitled: Twenty-four unforgettable and chilling stories by some of the world's best-loved most celebrated writers.

I have to agree with her there. AA Milne is indeed celebrated for his Winnie the Pooh stories, but who know he wrote a murder story narrated by the prospective victim?

Evelyn Waugh indulged too -- in a bittersweet confection involving the delightfully named Lady Moping and her hapless husband, who meets a genial chap during his stay in a madhouse.

Rudyard Kipling's contribution is a chilling war story concerning a lady companion whose upper lip turns out to be far more stiff and starchy even than that of her aged invalid employer.

A ghost story is contributed by the sharp-tongued and razor-witted Muriel Spark, whose narrator is the pragmatic and philosophical ghost of an uncompromising girl who has died through falling afoul of a man about to commit bigamy. Naturally, he wants to keep his dark past secret.

Une Crime Maternel, by Fay Weldon, is a short monologue addressed by a prisoner to her silent social worker. She explains why she poisoned the divorced father of her children and expresses her misguided concerns for them. 

Nadine Gordimer weighs in with a story of an innocent childish love between a white farm boy and a black girl. When they reach puberty, their doomed connection is shockingly severed by the strictures of their society.

The inimitable Edith Wharton describes the last journey of a young married couple and the wife's strange reaction to her husband's death on the train.

There's much more. This banquet of murder stories runs the gamut from chilling to almost cosy.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Pamplemousse Gardens on Mauritius

Left: Botanical wonder, Mauritius attractions 

Formerly the Pamplemousse Gardens, the Sir Seewoosagar Botanic Garden is a premier attraction of the island of Mauritius. The giant waterlilies seen in the pictures are among its paramount wonders.

I learned of this garden from River of Smoke, the novel of Amitav Ghosh. The setting is historically accurate: this garden was established near Port Louis by a French governor in the Pample-mousses district nearly 300 years ago.

Right: Water lilies at Pamplemousses,
image from Dave's Garden

Left: Mauritius image from Round the World Tours

Thursday, April 11, 2013

River of Smoke by Amitav Ghosh

Book and audio book cover design from Reader Store

Amitav Ghosh is an extraordinary writer, a visionary who reveals the world of the mid-nineteenth century. From Canton's Fanqui Town landing ghat at Jackass Point to the busy seaport of Calcutta, the author guides us to Singapore's "Wordy" clothing market, and even to Coptic Cairo.

The Ibis reappears from Sea of Poppies, bound for Mauritius. The orphan Paulette turns up in the now-unkempt Pamplemousse Gardens, where her aunt once worked as a botanist. There she meets the Cornish nurseryman Mr. Penrose, who hires her to care for his onboard plant collection.

While The British East India Company seeks to extend its profit and influence from the opium trade. Sir Joseph Banks orchestrates the journeys of nursery ships with onboard gardeners. They ply the oceans to China and back, carrying exotic new plants for Kew Gardens.

In Canton, Robin Chinnery, a talented young gay artist, son of a British father and a Bengali mother, has just found his social and artistic milieu when politics threatens to overturn his life. We see the situation through his eyes as he writes regular newsy letters to his childhood friend Paulette, now ship's gardener on board the Redruth. This ship remains anchored off the coast while her captain seeks out a rare golden camellia to take back to England.

Meanwhile, caught up in the toils of feudalism and colonialism, an international group of merchants in Fanquitown, the foreign quarter of Canton, carry on the trade in opium. The black mud is making fortunes for traders, even as it ruins the lives of those who become addicted to the fragrant smoke.

Bahram Modi is a Parsee merchant from Bombay. He is trying to raise his fortunes and secure respect from his in-laws by trading in opium. Neel, once a rajah and now a branded criminal, is working as Modi's munchi-ji, a multi-lingual secretary, translator and news-gatherer.

We meet the members of the Chamber of Commerce in the foreign quarter in Canton, mostly unrepentent opium pushers. Few among them respect the new anti-drug laws of the Chinese and give up the lucrative trade. In this chamber, we briefly spy actual historic characters, including Mr. Jardine, who along with Mr. Matheson, established the still extant Jardine Matheson in 1832.

Besides its wonderful cast of characters, this book has many brilliant lines which can be applied today as they could in the days of the pirate traders. One particularly cynical remark by an unregenerate free trade businessman is the comment the willingness to "let people focus on democracy while we (traders) get on with running the world."

This book has an incredibly complex plot that harks back to the prequel. It is also loaded with linguistic and cultural information, including words and phrases from a variety of languages. Indeed, the writer, a linguistic virtuoso, is not averse to throwing in some hilarious zingers, as when he informs us that the Chinese call the British "I says," the French "Merdes," and the Indians "Achas," literally teas.

Ghosh is a multi-sensory painter who treats his readers to a feast of the sights, sounds and smells seen through the eyes of the artist Robin in his regular letters to Paulette. In childhood, her pet name was Pugli, and the epithets Robin uses for her in his letters vary from the Countess of Puglinsberg to the Maharani of Pugglesnagore.

This second of the planned trilogy was published in 2011; I eagerly await the third. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese

Cover photo from cbcshop.ca

This hockey story with a difference is a contender for Canada Reads 2013. Like Wagamese's essays, and his earlier novel, Keeper'n Me, this novel pulls the reader in immediately. Saul's family retreats to the bush to keep him away from the grasp of missionaries who spirit children away to residential schools. Far from town, his little brother gets sick and dies. Funeral rites for the child generate family disagreement. Even though his Granny wants the burial done the old way, Saul's parents, who have been Christianized, decide to transport the body to town by canoe for a Catholic burial.

As early autumn turns to late fall, Saul and his grandmother await their return. Meanwhile, the old woman teaches her grandson what she knows. She tells him of the basic human need for mystery, which fills us with humility. This is "the foundation of all learning."

Saul will think of his grandmother's words again many years later, when he learns to skate, becomes a soaring bird on the ice and is given a mysterious knowledge of where the play will go next. It is this strange ability to tap into the future direction of the puck and the game that makes him a star. He has inherited the ability to presage the future from his family lineage. "Our medicine people would call me a seer."

This is a hockey story, but of a unique type. A work of fiction, it is also an expose of the hardship and cruelty native children were subjected to in residential "schools" that were more like jails. At his school, the only bright star on Saul's horizon is his uncanny talent and love for hockey. With paltry equipment and ill-fitting skates, he becomes brilliant at the game.

For a time, hockey redeems him. Yet in the end, the solitary and untrusting adult Saul has become must turn inward and face the dark shadow of one more betrayal he has tried hard to forget.

Richard Wagamese is brilliant at expressing life's mystery and wonder. When Saul's grandfather sees a horse for the first time, it speaks to him in a mystical prophecy of the future: "The people will see many things, and I am but one of them." And thus the family acquires its name, Indian Horse.

Looking from the perspectives of wild animals, the narrator perceives "time's relentless prowl forward." From the point of view of the child Saul, he tells of the cold pale blue eyes of the Sister at the school, "like the eyes of a husky."

In the opening scene, the solitary broken down alcoholic that Saul has become passes on a simple message: "If we want to live at peace with ourselves, we must tell our stories." These simple words were strong medicine for me: they caused tears of recognition to spring to my eyes.

Best of all, in spite of the challenge of its subject matter, in spite of the reader's awareness that the author too was a victim of the residential school system, this beautiful book is luminous with hope.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Early spring at the plant nursery and beyond

It was a cold March and it seems unbelievable that these pictures were taken only about three weeks ago.

We're now into full April glory, with hyacinths and daffodils well along, and early tulips bursting into bloom.

Photo right: Daffodils and fritillaria imperialis in front of Newton Library

Monday, April 8, 2013

Two Pianos Four Hands at the Arts Club again

Ted Dykstra image from Charlebois Post

It's poignant, it's hilarious and it's still at the Arts Club Stanley. But only for a few more days. Ted Dykstra (theatre and film actor and director of the smash hit Billy Bishop Goes to War) and Richard Greenblatt (writer, actor, director, musician) are accomplished actors, comedians and pianists.

This musical comedy show is about two buddies who grow up taking piano lessons. Anyone who has ever taken music lessons or stood over a child who is supposed to be practicing can definitely relate.

The two versatile performers play a wide range of characters and some amazing piano duets. The show debuted in 1996 and travelled the world. It has been seen by over a million people.

Richard Greenblatt photo from Gary Goddard Agency

Now the show's farewell tour is almost complete. It's still playing at the Arts Club Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage, but only till April 14.

Definitely worth seeing, before it goes.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Attention writers: Southbank 2013 is almost here

Image from Vicky Pinto, Bubblews

Ready to take your writing to the next level? Live on the south side of the river and hate commuting to Vancouver? Spend your summer writing close to home. Southbank Writers' Program in Surrey is taking applications till April 30. 

Southbank is an intensive part-time summer program offered by Simon Fraser University Continuing Studies in the university's own suite of rooms on the top floor of the Surrey City Centre Library near Surrey Central Skytrain station.

Enjoy dedicated Studio Saturdays writing with like-minded writers, and work with a small group and a writing mentor. 

Learn from respected local writers: Wayde Compton, Rachel Rose, Lois Peterson, Michael Slade, Hal Wake, Caroline Adderson, Jami Macarty and more.

Network with other writers, build your writing practice and learn how to read your work in a safe and encouraging environment. Find out about writers' ethics, or move your blogging skill up a notch or two. Listen to a panel on the current state of publishing. Learn how to edit your own fiction, or how to write a thriller or a kids' book.

Southbank runs from May 26 to August 17, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. See course descriptions here and this year's schedule here.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Viscount Monck

Viscount Monck image from wikipedia

Sir Charles Stanley Monck, the 4th Viscount Monck, was Canada's first Governor General.  He was already in place before Confederation, as the Governor of British North America, a post he accepted in 1861.

Before 1867, he used his diplomatic skills, along with other "fathers of confederation," to help build the new country. He was also able to settle a British - US diplomatic crisis called the Trent affair.

As governor, he had lived in Spencerwood, near Quebec City. When he became governor general, he moved to Rideau Hall in the new capital of Ottawa in 1868, after the government bought it as an official residence for him. From his new home, he used to travel to Parliament by boat.

Lady Monck, an enthusiastic gardener, went to work on the grounds of Rideau Hall, and effected great improvements there.

Monck was born in Ireland and educated at Trinity College Dublin. As an Irish peer, he was barred from the House of Lords, but he did win a seat in the House of Commons, where he represented Portsmouth, and later served as Lord of the Treasury.

Leaving Canada in 1868, he returned to Ireland, where he was made a Peer of the United Kingdom, Baron of Ballytrammon, and eventually, Lord Lieutenant of Dublin.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Lord Lisgar

Lord Lisgar image from Canada History

Sir John Young, who became Baron Lisgar, was the second governor general of Canada, from 1869-1872. Born in Bombay, he was educated at Eton and Oxford, and called to the bar at London's Lincoln's Inn, though he never practiced law.

As a young British MP, he served in the cabinet of British Prime Minister Robert Peel. Later he served as Lord High Commissioner to the Ionian Islands. After that, he was the Governor of New South Wales in Australia.

The first of the governors general to visit the White House, Lord Lisgar met U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant. He also opened a rail link between Fredericton and St. John, New Brunswick and Boston, Massachusetts. 

His predecessor, Lord Monck, left office early, and during this time, Lisgar was appointed Administrator of Canada until the spring of 1869, he was sworn in as governor general.

The Hudson's Bay purchase was being discussed in 1869, but the transfer of Rupert's Land to the Crown was delayed until 1870 because of the rebellion then taking place in the middle of this vast tract of real estate, which Canada bought from the Hudson's Bay Company for three hundred thousand British pounds, or approximately $1.5 million Canadian dollars. In 1869, the first Red River Rebellion began. Hoping to appease the Metis, Lisgar declared an amnesty for the rebels, and in 1870, Manitoba joined Confederation.

Also in 1870, the Fenians, a group of Irish-American rebels, began to raid across the border into Canada in an effort to draw attention to their cause, Irish independence from Britain. In this situation too, Lisgar mediated effectively. His strategy of preventing immediate executions of captured Fenian raiders no doubt helped to stop the crisis from escalating.

When British Columbia sent a delegation to Ottawa in the summer of 1870 to discuss the colony's entry into Confederation, Lord Lisgar met and spoke to them personally and encouraged British Columbia to join, which it did the following year.

With his wife Lady Adelaide, Lord Lisgar entertained at Rideau Hall, holding Christmas, New Year and Garden parties. It was also Lord Lisgar who initiated the noontime firing of the gun on Parliament Hill. The Governor General's Foot Guard was the new special regiment created to attend the governor general in 1872, and provided an honour guard for Lisgar as he left office.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Earl of Dufferin

Image from Canada History

He was born in Florence, Italy, and his name was Frederick Temple Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood. In addition to being the Earl of Dufferin, he was the 1st Marquess of Dufferin and Ava.

The years between 1872 and 1878, when Lord Dufferin was governor general, were formative for Canada. During this period the nation admitted the province of Prince Edward Island to Confederation.

As well, the young nation founded the Supreme Court of Canada, and The Royal Military College, located in Kingston. The Intercolonial Railway was also established.

A fluently bilingual writer and orator, Lord Dufferin took an interest in the proceedings of Parliament. As Governor General, he was not permitted in the House of Commons, but Lady Dufferin was free to attend, and he frequently had her report back what she'd heard. He also established an office in the east wing of the Parliament Buildings.

Lord Dufferin established the Governor General's Academic Medal in 1873, and this is still given out annually in high schools and post-secondary institutions.

He also established a trophy for curling, and soon afterwards, the Ontario Branch of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club. In response to the increasing numbers of social functions, the Ballroom and the Tent Room were added to the governor general's residence at Rideau Hall, and Lady Dufferin took up her entertaining duties with a will.

The Dufferins were the first to use La Citadelle as a second Vice-Regal residence, and Lord Dufferin spoke against taking down the garrison walls of old Quebec, an idea that was being floated at the time.

Like many governors general who followed him, Lord Dufferin was an alumnus of Eton and Oxford. He was a Lord-in-waiting to Queen Victoria, and was made Lord Clandeboye of County Down, Ireland, and served the British government as Under-secretary of War just before Canadian Confederation.

Before coming to Canada, he served as Commissioner to Syria, and after finishing his term here, he returned to England to serve as a diplomat. He was Ambassador in turn to Russia, Turkey, Italy and France, and in between held the post of Viceroy of India.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Duke of Argyll

Image from Corbis images

John Douglas Sutherland Campbell, Marquis of Lorne and 9th Duke of Argyll was governor general between 1878 and 1883.

He was born on the Isle of Wight, and served as private secretary to his father, who was secretary of state for India. He was married to the fourth daughter of Queen Victoria, Princess Louise. It was she whose name was given to Lake Louise.

He encouraged British Columbia to join Confederation (which it did in 1871) and also pushed for Canada to have a High Commissioner to London.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Marquess of Lansdowne

Photo from Canada History

A member of the Irish nobility, Henry Petty-Fizmaurice, the Marquess of Lansdowne, was governor general between 1883 and 1888. During this time he witnessed the completion of the railway to the tune of political scandal, as well as the Metis-government conflict of the Riel Rebellion.

Born in 1845 and educated at Eton and Oxford, he entered the House of Lords at 21. He became Secretary of the Treasury at 26, and later served as Under-Secretary of War.

He also served as Secretary for India, but broke with Prime Minister Gladstone over the issue of Irish home rule, and resigned this post in 1880.

Lansdowne was an outdoorsman who loved to fish. He enjoyed travelling in Canada and visited various native bands to witness their rituals. He crossed Canada twice, the second time on the newly-completed CPR transcontinental railroad; indeed, he was the first governor general to take this ride.

When he left Canada, Lansdowne was immediately appointed Viceroy of India and served there for five years. After returning to England, he turned down the ambassadorship to Russia and served in different cabinet posts before and after the Boer War. During WWI, he served as minister without portfolio in the wartime coalition government. He died in 1927 in Tipperary.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Lord Stanley

Photo from Hockey Gods

It is to Frederick Arthur Stanley, later Lord Stanley, who served as governor general between 1888 and 1893 that we owe two important Canadian institutions: Stanley Park and the Stanley Cup hockey trophy.

On March 18, 2013, Governor General David Johnston announced the Lord Stanley memorial monument, in time to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the Stanley Cup and the 150th of Canada (2017).

Born the 16th Earl of Derby, Lord Stanley was educated at Eton and Sandhurst, and served in the Grenadier Guards, who are featured in this 2010 BBC film after they returned from Afghanistan.

He married a daughter of the Earl of Clarendon, Lady Constance Villiers, and they had ten children. Touring the country, he enjoyed its natural beauty, and met people of various first nations. He loved the outdoors and was an avid fisherman.

In his role as governor general, he maintained neutrality in the controversial matter of the Jesuit Estates Bill, and thus earned respect for maintaining the appropriately neutral position of the vice-regal head of state.

After returning to England, he became Chancellor of the University of Liverpool and devoted himself to philanthropic works.