Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A day thinking of Verlaine

the view from Verlaine's balcony
Steve and I have spent the day sorting through papers, and packing up boxes, as we get ready to close down Verlaine's apartment.

The funeral is tomorrow.

Saying goodbye is never easy. 
crabapple blossoms blowing across the grass

I found myself thinking partly about the way that 'activity' (you know, packing, organizing, sorting) provides one avenue for grieving:  a way of both distracting you from the reality of parting, and of connecting you to it at the same time by allowing memories to surface as you sort through objects that you know and that attach you to the person.

I was thinking about that as I took a pause this morning to enjoy the view from the second floor balcony of the apartment that Verlaine moved into during the last year of her life. 

clouds and blossoms white against the blue sky

The grass was green, and the trees were in flower.  I enjoyed sitting there,the feel of the wind, the sight of the white clouds rolling across the sky, and the fragrance of the trees that are in bloom all along the street.
I took my camera with me downstairs to get a photo of the trees from closer by.   The fragrance was amazing. 

I loved the way the blossoms and the clouds held their white outlines against the blue of the sky. 

some rain clouds moving in

Of course, I did notice that some of those clouds were tinged with dark grey on the bottom.  Maybe we would have a fall of rain later in the day.

I asked one woman walking by if she knew the names of the trees outside. She told me the larger white blossomed tree just out the door was a Crabapple, and that the smaller blossomed trees along the street were Mayday trees.  I am sure Verlaine could have also identified the tree names for me.  I am also sure that she too would have enjoyed walking out under the trees.

She was a woman who enjoyed flowers, and who loved to garden. It takes no work at all to pull up the image of her 'puttering around' (to use her phrase) in the backyard, trimming back the roses, or planting a few rows of lobelia or some of the more showy annuals.   

the rain beating down

Certainly, my own backyard in Victoria has been the beneficiary of her work with a garden fork (and her eye for picking out nice plants at the nursery). 

The rain did indeed come by later in the afternoon... complete with thunder and lightening. 

Nourishment for garden. 

Verlaine would have approved.


Monday, May 21, 2012

Saying goodbye to my mother-in-law (Verlaine Carter, 1922-2012)

Len and Verlaine Carter
 Steve and I got the call on Friday that his mother had died of a heart attack late that night. 

It was not totally unexpected, but  knowing something is on the horizon does not make it that much easier. 

We are back in Calgary, arranging things for the funeral, sorting through papers and photographs, and thinking of all the fabulous memories of a life well and truly lived.  She was truly a grand dame!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Rain and Sunshine (Boys)

The Sunshine Boys
Even though London was rainy today, we still got a dose of sunshine (boys)!  

Yes, Neil Simon's play "The Sunshine Boys". 

I saw it a million years ago (the movie version) with Geoge Burns and Walter Matthau. 

This time, it was in the Savoy Theatre starring Danny Devito and Richard Griffiths (aka Vernon Dursley).  Perfect comedic timing!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Sophie and Rebecca Day 2 (V&A and Chicago)

So.... even though she has long since gone home, here is the report on Day 2 with Sophie visiting! (from back in April)

Day 2 started at the V&A museum. Once again, we arrived just in time for the tour.

This time the tour was of the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries... the ones they just spent 30 million renovating. I have to say, it is well worth the visit!

We started with a stroll through Room 50, "The Renaissance City" .  It is too cool! it is exactly what it says it is... designed to give you the sense of a renaissance city, with statues and fountain, and balconies along the walls looking into the streets. (the picture above is off the V&A website... check it out here) (http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/r/renaissance-city-room-50/

We headed from there down the stairs to the medieval area, to see what we could see. 

Symmachi Panel
Our first stop was the carved ivory Symmachi Panel (400 AD) 

The carvings are beautiful, and you can see pagan elements present even though europe was beginning to be christianized at the time.

I had not known that gifts of ivory were 'restricted', and that by law ivory could only be given to high roman officials (this one was probably given to commemorate a marriage).

Gloucester Candlestick

Then it was off to see the  Gloucester Candle Stick (made in 1107). 

 If you click on the picture on the link above, the picture will expand so you can get a closeup look at it.

You can see 4 apostles represented by their traditional signs: Angel (Matthew), Lion (Mark), Ox (Luke), and Eagle (John).  You can aslo see apes and humans attempting to crawl up from the inferno towards the heavens.

Syon Cope

Next was the Syon Cope (which is a kind of cape worn during religious services)   It is old, but in pristine condition.  It would have been destroyed during the reformation, but a bunch of nuns moved it off to Portugal, so it survived intact.  

Again, you can click on the link to see it, though the picture does not do justice to it up close. The colours have faded somewhat with time...all the parts that look brown would have been a vibrant red! 

I stood there looking at it, thinking about the small embroidery stitches my mother had Melanie Phillips and I practice on the corner of tea towels when we were little.  The skill here was astonishing.  The guide told us that after the tour, we should go check out the golder spider silk cloak also in the gallery.  huh?  spiders?  yep.  I will come to that later.

Pisano's 'Christ Crucified'

From there we went to take a closer look at Pisano's "Christ Crucified". 

Hard to believe that it is ivory.  It was also interesting looking at how, over the years, the styles of representing religious figures had changed so significantly. 

Rather than focusing on monsters and demons, the religious objects begin focusing attention on emotional impacts of people who look 'like us'.

It is certainly an object of compelling beauty

While we couldn't get close to it (some reno work in the room), we also had a peek at the Devonshire Tapestry, which gives you a great sense of what nobel life was supposedly like: tournaments, hunts, and showing off your wealth in every way imaginable.

And, on the topic of wealth, we walked past the facade of Sir Paul Pindar's house.  He was a wealthy merchant, who loaned money to Charles I, and put thousands of pounds into the building of St. Paul's Cathedral.  The king was unable to repay him, so he ended up in poverty.  But... the house survived the great fire of London.  It was taken down to build the Liverpool Street Station, so you can now see the facade in the musuem... installed just as if it was a building.  It is pretty cool!  

Da Vinci's notebook...
 Another highlight was seeing one of da Vinci's notebooks!

Part of the renovation includes interactive computer stations. 

The one right beside the da vinci notebook has all of the pages scanned in, so you can flip through the pages, looking at both the original text, and at the translations for each page.

Da Johnson's notebook...
  Now what could be more fun than THAT?!   I have resolved to treat my own notebooks with a bit more respect (who KNOWS where they might end up?)  :-)

As an aside, there had been only 10 or so of us on the tour, which is luck beyond belief: no problems seeing or hearing stuff!  Oddly enough, one of the people in our group had also been in our tour group at the National Gallery the day before.... in a city of millions, that was a bit unusual.  As Sophie will attest (if you ask her for more of the story), our fellow-traveller was 'memorable' (to say the least).

the individual threads at the edge of the cloth

Before leaving, we headed off to the other side of the museum to take a look at the famous golden spider silk cloak. 


Spiders (click here).  

Online, you can see a video of people catching the spiders, and then pulling the silk out of them, keeping them for only a while, then letting them go. 

I suspect the spiders don't love it, but they let each one go after 20 minutes of 'work' (ie. having the thread pulled out of you). 

cloak woven from spider silk

You then get to watch the strands being woven together, and finally, woven into the cloak itself.

The golden yellow colour is the natural colour of the spider silk.
Wow!  Hard to believe something so creepy can produce something so amazingly beautiful! 
spider design on the cloak

 From there, we headed back to the world of bodies!   We managed to get day tickets for Chicago: the Musical, so we sat on the very front row for a couple of hours of adultery, mayhem, music and murder, all set to music.  The only question we were left with was "if you had a choice, would you be Roxie or Velma?"  Hard call!

Rebecca strikes a pose....

Sophie strikes a pose...

Hanging out with judges at the Guild Hall

Retired Justice Claire L'Heureux-Dube and Lady Brenda Hale
This weekend was the annual meeting for the IAWJ (International Association of Women Judges).

I went to hang out and listen to some of the sessions (and spend some time sitting beside 'my' judge, the most fabulous retired Madame Justice Claire L'Heureux-Dube).

 The event was oversubscribed (i should have taken care of registration MONTHS in advance), but I got on the waitlist, and I was able register on the day, though I was told that the tickets for the Gala Dinner at the end were totally gone.

Fine!  No problem!  I was just so happy to be able to sit in the sessions and listen and watch. You can check out the program on-line  (click on the left-hand links to "Conference Program" and "Social Program").
"The Three Graces" (Connie Backhouse joins the judges)

Frankly, it was amazing: something like 600 judges from 103 nations.  It was like a mini-United Nations of Justice!
There were close to no academics there (less than a handful of us)...but what a richness of women judges! 

The world is not the place it was when I first started law school.

 It was completely inspiring for me to be there to see such diversity. 

It was also quite a thing to be able to sit there to see the ways that judges share their experiences and insights with other judges.
Three more graces with a theme colour?

 One of the really enjoyable parts of the event were the  'having coffee in the halls' part of the conference.

I have been taught by, mentored by, or watched from afar or in court MANY of the women judges from the Canadian delegation, and it was great fun to chat in the halls with them between sessions. 

At one point, a group had said they would see me the next evening at the Gala dinner.  I told them that they would NOT see me, since the tickets were all gone.  Ten minutes later, Lucie-Anne LaVigne returned with a ticket in hand!  Another judge had to leave early (Shiranee Tilakawardane from the Sri Lankan Supreme Court...whom deseves a huge thank you for me!), and had given her the ticket to pass along to some needy person.    SCORE!!!!!  

my mom's choice of necklace
All the way home on the tube that evening, I found myself humming the song "I've Got a Golden Ticket" from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Well.... i will confess to a moment of trauma when I got home and started thinking about the words "formal attire or traditional dress" which were inscribed on the ticket. 
For a year of sabbatical in London, I came with only one piece of checked baggage and one piece of carry-on. 

I remember standing in front of the closet at home wondering what I should bring in case I needed to go to any chichi events during the year. 

I had decided that the odds of that happening were low, so closed the suitcase without anything in the way of elegant evening wear... I figured a black skirt and black boots could carry me.  ouch.   ah well!   

List of important trials held in the Guild Hall
As usual, my mom (who is visiting from Calgary) stepped into the gap, sending me out the door with an over-the-top necklace and a beautiful embroidered scarf to camoflage the less impressive bits!   So, (after one last quick check of the emails!) off I went.
What can I say?  The Guildhall is quite something. 

Built in the 1440s, the Guild Hall is, apparently, the only non-Church building in London to have survived the Great Fire of 1666.
It has also been the site of many famous trials, including that of Lady Jane Grey! 

To say the building (and its contents!) was amazing would be an understatement. 

Napoleon on the walls
There was an impressive collection of paintings on the walls, but not enough time to study them all! 

As it was, the people watching was taking up lots of my time.  Such a gift to see the range of colour and vibrancy of attire in those who wore traditional dress!  A feast for the eyes!

We moved from the champagne reception into the banquetting hall for the main event. 

Some lovely (and perfectly timed) welcoming remarks, along with the granting of the IAWJ Award for work in support of Human Rights. 

The Banqueting Hall
This year it went to my former boss, Claire L'Heureux-Dube! 

Perfect recipient, and I was so delighted to be there to witness it! 

What a treat for me to be there to stand on my feet and see her recognized for the years of work and passion.... and such an amazing location to have it happen in! 

 I am only sad that I didn't have my picture ready to take a picture of her getting the award.   

Indeed, I was too shy to bring out my camera until half way through the night when I had watched the judges themself turn into unstoppable camera-philes. If they could do it, so could I!

That is when I quickly snuck back to the cloakroom to recover my camera from my coat pocket!

The banqueting hall was like an amazing cathedral.

The walls were covered with statues and memorials.
Duke Wellington on the wall

Memorial to Admiral Nelson

Gog or Magog?  the view from my seat at dinner
I was seated at one end of the hall, just below the statue of (either) Gog, or Magog, two giants who were supposedly defeated by Brutus, and then chained to the gates of his palace (which was at the site of the Guildhall). While it was a bit wierd sitting at an angle that made me worry I was looking up his skirt/kilt, it was an impressive view!

I was sitting with the judges from Taiwan, who were absolutely delightful dinner companions!

I came home with a CD of beautiful Susie Chien songs, and they all signed the liner notes for me with their names in chinese characters.

Again, it would be an understatement to say that the meal was lovely.  It was perfect. 

trumpet fanfares
But it was not just the food, but the presentation...in the broadest sense of the word:  There were fanfares before each course... not your everyday trumpets, but the long ones with banners hanging from them. 

They were on the balcony just above us, so I couldn't get a great shot, but you can see the end of the trumpets if you look closely (between the stained glass and the clock).  I am not sure, but suspect they were the state trumpeters of the Band of the Life Guards.
opera singers on the balcony

The sound was amazing!  There is simply NOTHING better than music delivered in a space that amplifies the sounds... notes that echo and reverberate, or just seem to hover in the air.

And then,.. to push it over the top, there was a musical program between courses: a mezzo and a soprano, singing gems of music (''O mio babbino caro',  'the flower duet', nessun dorma, etc) from a balcony half way down the room. 

Talk about feeding the soul alongside the belly!

still beautiful the next morning
Because I live here in London and could give them a good home, I was told I could take some of the flowers (which covered the tables) home with me. 

Funnily enough, this was no problem, because I had stuffed a plastic carrying sac in my purse on the way to the event.  This was because, on the tube on the way home the previous night, the person sitting beside me on the tube had thrown up, splashing my shoes (this is one of the risks of riding the tube at night when people are coming home from the pub, having tossed back a few too many pints!).  


Kiwi checking out the blooms on the glass table
Before leaving home to head to the tube (to get to the Gala), I decided to follow the advice of a fellow traveller I had seen hand a bag to someone in order to throw up into (better they should throw up in a bag than on the floor on or my shoes).  Smart, thought I! 

In this case, the bag got put to an even better use, and gave me the pefect way to safely transport all the blooms home. 

So... three bunches of flowers are have been sitting on my kitchen table, filling the room with the delicate scents of rose and peoney.  Sweet!