Thursday, November 24, 2011

First Snow on my last day in St. John's!

Snow on St. Joseph's Lane
Apparently, it started at 3am, but by the time I opened the front door at the Hometel (the great little condo/hotel/B&B I am staying in), there were at least 15cm of snow on the ground.  People were out with shovels and snowblowers, and a few people were pitching in to help a guy who had already got his car stuck trying to drive through a drift in the middle of the road.  It is not too cold out (just hovering around zero), but I am pretty sure that we are going to have to ditch the plan to drive out to cape spear for the day.  Slipping in the snow and sliding off the most easterly point in north america into the waves below?.... well... that would be just like me and is not really on my 'bucket list' of things to do in this life! 

So intsead, I have contented myself with 15 minutes of perusing through images of cape spear on the web, and I will just have to come back to this amazing place for another visit someday.  Today, I will hang out in coffeeshops down the street, enjoying the sights of winter outside the window!

Monday, November 21, 2011

My morning walk up signal hill

This morning, I woke up early, so i could try walking up signal hill to see the sun rise. The walk was not as bad as I had feared: only 45 minutes to the top and back, with lots of time spent trying to figure out the best angle to take a photo from.

Cabot Tower on Signal Hill

From the bottom of the hill, Cabot Tower stood out against the sky. It looked imposing. ... or maybe more like 'lonely'.

Birds on Georges Pond

I stopped half way up (by Georges Pond) to watch the birds flying and landing on the water. The whole scene kept me thinking of stripes:  stripes of cloud, of sky, of rock, of water, of land....  it was like ribbons of colour, or ripped strips of paper stacked one on top of the other....
 Again, the view from the top of the hill made every step up the incline more than worth it.  Yes, it was a bit chilly, but there is something magical about standing on the top of the hill, being whipped by the wind, and looking out across the ocean.  There were others up on top taking photos.  I can imagine that the view is never exactly the same...i love how sky and sea sometimes seem to mirror or bleed into eachother.  I am looking forward to doing the same walk tomorrow morning!

My Visit to The Rooms

The Rooms

All my St. John's friends said that i HAD to go visit "the Rooms". And so I did. And just what is "The Rooms"? An incredible public cultural space....a combination of Museum, Art Gallery, Archives and Restaurant. What a great place to spend a Sunday afternoon!  The inside is light and airy, with museum on one side, art gallery on the other.  

I loved the art gallery.... a super mixture of old and new, newfoundlander and person from away.... there was a super exhibit on the library, and I really enjoyed myself looking at the Adrian Norvid exhibit, large (wall sized) paintings/drawings that were reminiscent of a mashup of Breugal's paintings (like (Children's Games") with Robert Crumb's 1960s underground comix.... here is a small piece of one of the pieces from the web.
Adrian Norvid: 'close up detail!'
Breugal, kindergames....

Crumb comix

Not everyone's cup of tea, but full of humor and ironic jokes when you took time to investigate close up.

The "Art Pod" in The Rooms

Truly, the curators at The Rooms have done great stuff with the space.  The walls are painted with 'notes' about how to view paintings, notes that give you ideas about how to linger longer with the material in the gallery.  They also had a great "Art Pod":  a small area in a nice enclosed corner, loaded up with bean bag chairs, and art books and supplies... encouraging you to grab a paper and crayons, and to try drawing something. 

The View from the Restaurant

My attempt at drawing the view...
 I was inspired to take up the challenge.  :-)   well... inspired by the menu and the view..... After filling my eyes in the gallery, i headed off to the restaurant on the 4th floor for a bite... and what a bite!  a delicious coconut and beef soup, with an equally yummy spinach quinoa salad (with dried blueberries, cashews and shredded apple).  ... and the view?!   Inspirational enough to leave me wanting to try my hand at sketching it out.  The conclusion?  I will not give up my day job.   Stillll..... such fun to eat and sketch at the same time!  :-)

the door to the archives!

oops...I  nearly forgot.... given that my friend Susan is also an archivist, I did have to get a shot of the archives!  It was Sunday, so they were closed and I couldn't get in.  Still... i did stand with my hand on the door in a moment of reverence (surely due to all archives!), and admire the fabulous doors, inlaid with squares of coloured glass (sort of in the shape of fish?) 


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Chimney Swifts?... or maybe Starlings?

Tonight, as I was walking back to the hotel, I chanced upon what was 'i think?' a flock of chimney swifts, or some such bird.  I don't understand either WHAT these birds are doing, or exactly HOW they are doing it, let alone the question of WHY.  Nonetheless, I sat on the curb watching them for a good 15 minutes before remembering that my ipad can take videos.  So.... excuse the noise from the wind and cars,, but here is a glimpse of the birds in the darkening sky...

Exploring St. John's - Day 1

Harbour by night
Another exciting plane trip across the Atlantic has landed me safe and sound in St. John's Newfoundland for a week of adventure at Memorial University. Lucky me!.  I arrived in the evening, so it was hard to get a complete sense of the place, but I did wander down the street from the hotel to take a peak at the harbor by night.  Gorgeous! 
mixed message?
Wandering down to the Classic Cafe this morning (for a hearty breakfast, with an amazing view of the harbour), I walked past this corner.    It was a delicious flashback to all of those years of teaching Canadian Constitutional Law, focusing on the place of the temperance cases in forging our 'division of powers' federalism jurisprudence! I am just not sure what to make of this sign. Is it "Stop Temperence" (as in, 'pro-liquor'), or is it more like "Temperence. Stop" (as in, 'stop drinking')? Either way, I love the corner! 
Deadman's Pond
 After breakfast, my hosts Katherine and Brad drove me around town (super nice of them). First, we drove up to the top of Signal Hill, past Deadman's Pond and George's Pond, where gulls of all sorts appeared to be hanging out for the day.  I found myself marking all sorts of interesting similarities between St. John's and Victoria:  there were some moments on the drive up Signal Hill where I was having an overlay of driving up Mount Tolmie back home.  Both places marked by outcroppings of stone, gnarled plants, moss and lichen.  Both shaped by wind and ocean, albeit one Pacific and one Atlantic.  Gorgous.  
how far to London?!

Cabot Tower

looking out to Cape Spear

At the top of Signal Hill is Cabot Tower.  You can see it from almost anywhere in town, a silhoutte against the skyline.  Just below it is a market, pointing the direction to various sites (mostly cities, but i did note that "The Titanic" was also up there).  From up there, you can look out towards Cape Spear (where you could see the white caps of waves crashing on the shore), and from there.... nothing but ocean to the east!  I am going to see if I can get up early one of these mornings, and walk the path down around the harbour edge.

   After that, they drove me over to Fort Amherst, which is on the opposite side of the harbour mouth.  You get another amazing view from that side: Signal Hill from the other side (can you see Cabot Tower on the top of the hill?), the lighthouse, the houses built into the side of the rock in The Battery (the nightbourhood below signal hill).... and the feel and sound of the wind.  I can see why people from St. John's love it so much....
Signal Hill from Fort Amherst
Fort Amherst Lighthouse
View from the lighthouse

houses in The Battery


Thursday, November 17, 2011

a trip to the candy store

Walking down the High Street with Kiwi

The Suckers in front of the Suckers! 
The other day we (Duncan and Ben) went for a walk down the High Street to the best candy store in London:  Mr. Simm's.  It is the 8th wonder of the world! They have all types of sweets, some you can't even name!  There are so many kinds of chocolate bars, like "Banana Rama" and "Coca Cola" and "Carmel Rocky Road", "Chili Pepper" and "Mint Chocolate". Both of us got a "Brain Blaster Candy Spray".  it is totally sour (if you have not tried War Heads Candy).  We tried spraying it in our parent's mouth.  They all said it was totally gross.   

Chocolate Bars at Mr. Simm's

Later that night, I (Ben) hid my chocolate bar in my bedroom.  Kiwi (the dog) snuck in there, and in less than one minute, she devoured nearly the whole bar!  That dog is so cute but a bit of a criminal.  Earlier that day she also devoured my mom's bar of soap!   What's up with that?!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Ben, Duncan and Rebecca report on Sunday in London

REBECCA:   Jim, Ben and Elizabeth arrived in London for a week long visit (with all the usual jet lag).  They managed to battle their way from Heathrow to Woodside Lane, and we forced them to stay awake another 6 or so hours (to truly exhaust themselves to get over the jet lag).  :-)

On the River Boat Cruise
Tower Bridge
BEN: We got up really early in the morning and I was so jet lagged, and i hadn't slept all night... and it was so hard to get up in the morning. Still we did it!   Then we caught the tube into town to take a river tour on the Thames.

We saw lots of stuff, including the Tower Bridge, and the Tower of London, which was the place where people got their heads cut off. 

View of the Thames from the top of the hill
In Greenwich
DUNCAN:  At the end of the line, we stopped in Greenwich. I know... from the way they spell it, it looks like you should say "GREEN WITCH", but they pronounce it like "GREN ITCH", so just deal with it. Then we went to a market. Mom bought some chocolate mint coffee beans, and then we saw some really cool pocket watches, and we each got one! 

cool pocket watches

Romantic moments!
 BEN:  And then we went to a pub, for a couple of pints (of diet coke). We also got burgers and chips. Some of the adults got romance.

Royal Observatory with Red Ball
REBECCA:  At the Greenwich Park we saw a bunch of stuff. We walked up to the top of the hill and saw the Observatory.  There is a red ball on the top of the observatory... it goes up or down (who can remember) at 12 or 1 marks Greenwich Mean Time (I have never understood why time has to be mean.... why couldn't it be Greenwich Gentle Time?)
General Wolfe (with pidgeon on hat)

We also saw a statue of General Wolfe, according to the plaque, the "Victor of Quebec".  Every time I see him, i wonder how life would have been if he had lost.  Would I be typing this post in french instead of english?  Maybe I would be a better cook, and dress with a bit more flair?
Ben shocking the line
We also headed off to stand with one foot in the west and one foot in the east on the world-famous Prime Meridian of the World, Longitude 0 degrees, 0 feet, 0 inches!...basically, the opposite cut from the equator... Here we some snaps of us ...with one foot on each side of the line.
Duncan groovin' the line

Elizabeth straddling the line

Shaking hands across the line

Going up in the Eye!
Duncan: After we left Greenwich, we went on the London Eye. You think it is going to be really fun when you are right about to get on, and then you start to worry, what if this thing falls, and that is a bit freaky. But when you get to the top, it was no so bad.

Rebecca:  with all the soft lighting, the photos came out funny.... these guys look like the Blue Men!  :-)

Ben: And then we went and had crepes with nutella. One second the crepe is there, and the next, they are history!   Expect more from us later....

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Musical Theatre Extravaganza

My mom, aunt wyona and uncle greg arrived for a week long "visit". I put "visit" in quotation marks because there must be some other name for the force of nature that they are! Between matinees and evening performances, i think the plan is to work through the entire list of productions in the west end!

Sunday Alex had a rugby game, so Alex and Steve headed off on one direction, but the rest of us followed the yellow brick road (aka "the Northern Line on the Tube") to Oxford Circus, to watch Andrew Lloyd Weber's new production of "The Wizard of Oz". Here is Arta's report on the show!

For those of you who didn't follow it, there was aBBC reality type TV show (musical sing-offs!) to find the girl to play Dorothy ("Over the Rainbow").  The day we went, we saw the woman who was the runner up in the series.  She was fabulous!   In the role of Oz was Michael Crawford (who had the originating role in The Phantom).

I will say, I loved it.   While it is full of the expected showpieces, there are also new numbers written for the show.  You can certainly hear the signature of their composer!   Some of the songs seemed to be riffing off melodies from either "Phantom of the Opera" or "Love Never Dies" (which i think I actually like BETTER than Phantom).  If you go to the website for the show, they have some videoclips.  It is worth looking at the one called "Red Shoe Blues" (written for the show).  Wyona brought home a copy of the CD, so we have spent the last few days re-listening to parts of the score.  It was like returning to the show (with a cheaper ticket!) :-)  I committed myself to buying the CD for any future musical I see!

And so, on Monday, I told the kids to pick up the CD from Wicked  ("the untold story of the Wizard of Oz"... where the wicked witch of the west is the hero).  Steve and I saw Wicked several years back, but the kids hadn't, so Arta and Wyona took them to see that show, while Greg Steve and I went to see "Driving Miss Daisy" [staring Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones]. 

.... and this was only Sunday and Monday... there are still three days of the visit to go.  We will see how many more performances can be squeezed in!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Remember remember the fifth of November....

For weeks now, we have been living in a fireworks zone. I am not always quite sure which events have been going on. Sometimes the fireworks seem motivated (ie. during Diwali, or Halloween), but at other times, who knows? We hear them going off everynight somewhere. These brits seem to have a bit of an obsession with gunpowder!

Perhaps Guy Fawkes night is linked to this seemingly national obsession with things that explode?  As the old Nursery Rhyme goes:

Remember remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder, treason
Should ever be forgot...

And so we had our first shot at remembering (or rather, 'membering', since it was a first time for us) for Guy Fawkes Day. My mom having arrived in town the night before, she explained to the kids that, back in the 17th century, Guy Fawkes had been found in the Houses of Parliament with big casts of gunpowder (presumably to blow the building up), had been tried and executed (hung, drawn and quartered) for treason. 
Steve and the boys

400 years later, and the British are still celebrating with fireworks (gunpowder?) and by burning effigies of Guy Fawkes on big bonfires.  Strange event.  Nonetheless.... we headed off to Mill Hill where the Barnet Scout Troup was organizing fireworks and bonfire.  We arrived early enough to lineup for hotchocolate and fries, and to wander around trying to avoid getting singed by the many kids burning sparklers in the crowd.  :-)    I did catch one snapshot of the boys.  Steve wonders how it is that I always manage to catch him with his eyes half closed!

There was indeed a big pile of wood set up in the centre of the field with a stuffed effigy atop. Alex thinks that, after 400 years, they should just 'let it go'... time to stop promoting the burning of folks (even if only in effigy!)
I also tried to catch pictures of the would have been better if I had not positioned myself under a tree, but... i only figure these things out after the fact!

The longer the fireworks went on, the smokier the sky got.  The wind was blowing directly at us.  This meant that the fireworks seemed to be not only exploding, but then also to be escaping to the left.  It also meant that it began to be difficult to find people in the crowd because of the smoke!   :-)

And finally, it was time to light the bonfire.  Up it went!   given the direction of the wind, it wasn't long before the flames were high, and the ashes of the effigy were swirling against the crowds... people were pretty quick to get back from the cinders whipping towards them!   Both steve and i had thought the bonfire seemed pretty close the fence but... what do we know?!  :-)
I don't know if this will work, but.... i tried to take a couple of video clips....

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Fall has arrived in the Whetstone Stray Open Space

autumn colours...
I hopped off the bus at the Totteridge stop today rather than going all the way to Woodside Lane. This decision extended my walking time by a good half hour, but it was a half hour pleasure stroll starting at the Dollis Valley Greenway, and wandering back through the Whetstone Stray Open Space.  I haven't walked through the park in a week or so, and it is clear that fall has well and truly arrived. The air is crisp, and the autumn palette is everywhere.

Dollis Valley Greenway
Whetstone Stray Open Space
I was amused to see that while the walking path on the Greenway (to the right of Totteridge Road) looked like someone had swept it, the path in Whetstone (to the left of Totteridge) was often obscured by the thick carpet of leaves. Indeed, though its trees too are breaking out in a range of warm tones, the "Greenway" seems to be holding onto more of its green....or, at least the GRASS is still green (even if is always looks just a bit greener on the other side of the fence).
holding on to the  leaves...
....or  just letting them go...
Over in Whetstone, on the other hand, while some of the trees are retaining their leaves, other trees look like naked skeletons surrounded by a carpet of colour.

I expect you can imagine the smells of autumn, as the leaves begin to break down, and return to the earth. I wish I could capture for you the sound of the leaves beneath my feet, or the crackling sound walking underneath the oak tree, where acorns are scattered everywhere, and crunch underfoot.

leaves beside the path
some last green malingerers...

acorns underfoot

There was also an amazing sky full of clouds, with the sun occasionally taking a moment to break through, somehow emphasizing the bare bones of the leafless trees against the horizon.

the sun peeking through

trees against the cloudy sky
Certainly, worth hopping off the bus a bit early.