Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Day 90: The Spice of Life

Day 90: The Spice of Life, originally uploaded by susanvg.

I have had this "lazy Susan" for my spices for many years; it wobbles a bit, but I love to be able to turn it and see all my jars and containers. Cooking is more fun when you add a bit of this and a bit of that. However, it gets hard to replicate the flavours when you don't measure and remember just what you used.

The spices come from so many places; the flavours speak of exotic lands. It's fun to bring the aromas of the world to the dinner table.

Day 89: Up through the rain

Day 89: Up through the rain, originally uploaded by susanvg.

You never know where a photo comes from - as I go through my day, my camera always by my side, I don't always see the photo op or realize what photo will be the one.

I was at a conference all day - Springboards - which is about the teaching of language arts. Roch Carrier, a Canadian author spoke. He talked about when he was young and studying at the Sorbonne, he decided to write a story a day - each day different and how he had to make what he described unique. It resonated - how in photography we try to find the unique in the ordinary, to see what we didn't notice before. He also spoke about how the text is alive that it takes on meanings depending on the experience of the reader and the context in which it is read. So true with photos as well.

I took few pictures yesterday - one of 3 teachers who have been part of a telecollaborative initiative I have been leading with another colleague. One of the teachers was presenting about her growth through this project and how she came to be a blogger. I didn't post that photograph because, while I value the memory, the photograph itself didn't really represent the uniqueness of the moment.

I settled on this image, shot as I was exiting from the parking garage and was waiting for a gap in the traffic to get onto the street. I looked up through my sunroof (or should I say rainroof) and snapped this. Even through the rain I was intrigued by the buildings, but also by the white space. Sometimes it is the spaces we make in our lives, - time for reflection, for listening to wise people, for friendships - that help us grow and reach in ways we haven't before.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Day 88: Play the Recorder Day

Day 88: Play the Recorder Day, originally uploaded by susanvg.

I belong to the Montreal Recorder Society and play in a recorder orchestra, Flutissimo. Today we had our annual Play the Recorder Day (La Fête des flûtes). Some of my recorders are on the stand on the left. The very tall recorder, a contrabass, belongs to a friend of mine. The day included performances by all the groups in our society as well as workshops for beginners and a sight-reading session for all at the end.

Music is one of my passions - especially early music 18th century and earlier). I'm fortunate to live in a city where this flourishes, with many professional groups, two universities with early music programmes and many amateur players.

Whenever I can, I play music and to go to concerts and with the plethora of ensembles in Montreal, I often have to make choices. What a delightful dilemma to have.

Day 87: Ah Crocuses

Day 87: Ah Crocuses, originally uploaded by susanvg.

Spring has come very early to Montreal. The snow is almost gone and each day the signs of spring become more evident. Here are the first flowers of the season - a burst of colour against the straw grass. White winter followed by the washed out browns and yellows of early spring makes one crave colour. I walk, eyes focused on these protected areas, micro-climates that encourage growth.

My front garden, facing north, still has patches of dirty snow. No growth yet. But you can see the promise the earth holds.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Day 86: Hand Blown Glass

Day 86: Hand Blown Glass, originally uploaded by susanvg.

I love good craftmanship. Some years ago I went to Vancouver and a friend of mine took me to Robert Held's glass studio. It was a fascinating experience. In the area where the glass is blown, there were a couple of furnaces with fires blazing inside. Rock music blasted from speakers trying to drown out the roar of the fires. At each furnace a skilled glassblower carefully formed the shapes of the objects and meticulously added the layers of coloured glass. Turning and blowing, the object took shape. I was told that some young street people had been trained to be glass blowers. Working in this environment seemed to suit their temperament. They must have felt enormous satisfaction and pride turning out such beautiful objects.

The pieces in the gallery were magnificent and so were the prices. This bowl sat among the seconds - pieces with slight flaws that did not meet the exacting standards of a master glass blower. I love to look at the colours in the glass and marvel at its intricacy. Despite having seen the process, it still seems like magic to me that someone can control the placement of the colours with such precision. It is quite a gift to be an artist.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Day 85: A Rainy Drive

Day 85: A Rainy Drive, originally uploaded by susanvg.

It has been a dry March with sunny days that have melted most of the snow leaving an accumulation of dirt behind. We have needed this rain to wash the city clean. On my way to dinner with a friend the raindrops started to fall. For the first time since autumn you could smell the earthy aroma of the soil.

As I drove home, the car lights shone trails of colour across the pavement. The street lamps glowed halos while the drops of water on my windshield reflected back the myriad of shades. Rain - soon the plants will come back to life.

Day 84: Reading the paper

Day 84: Reading the paper, originally uploaded by susanvg.

This life size sculpture stands in front of a building nattily dressed in his shirt, sweater, tie and corduroy pants. At first glance he seems quite real. Reading the paper (with news from the 80s) he stands patiently. He never tires of the same news items. Once I passed him on Halloween and someone had added a mask to his attire.

I love to see art in public places. Last year I was in Budapest and was struck by the prevalence of sculpture where all could enjoy it. This man is one of my favourites in Montreal. I am always delighted to come across ones previously unknown to me. Below are some other views. Enjoy.

Detail of sculpture I

Detail of Sculpture II

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Day 83: Fifty Fingers - Hands Together

Being part of the 2009/365 Flickr group has been interesting in terms of growing relationships and community. Here are 50 fingers - on 10 hands to represent the connections happening around the world because of the many social tools that live on the web. These hands belong to some of my physical colleagues - they have been a huge part of my learning and support. However, my online relationships have become a large part of my life.

While we learn from each other, we also support each other in personal ways. So these 50 fingers also represent a reaching out to the people who have been part of my photography community and particularly are in response to Tim - who has left many positive comments for me. Today is his brother's 50th birthday; this photograph is also my birthday wish to his brother, Eric. I have never met either of them, but they are now a part of my life.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Day 82: Another Perspective

Day 82: Another Perspective, originally uploaded by susanvg.

I flew from Toronto back to Montreal today on Porter airlines - in one of its turboprop planes. The sky was perfectly clear and the view to the ground was only obstructed by parts of the wing and propeller. The snow is receding quickly as the sun's rays get stronger. The ice on parts of the rivers and lakes is breaking up. This was taken close to Montreal. Looking down, you can see the patterns of city life - straight streets and houses lined up like soldiers. The river has a more organic shape, widening and narrowing along its path.

Views like this change your perspective and remind you to stand back and look at the bigger picture. So often we are involved in the little details of life, get bogged down in the daily trivialities and forget to focus on the big things that really count.

Day 81: Changes

Day 81: Changes, originally uploaded by susanvg.

March and the days are getting longer. The rays of the sun feel warm even when the wind is cold. In Toronto, I saw evidence of spring taking hold. The trees, too feel the sun's warmth; they slowly start the growing process. Buds burst forth on the first brave trees. The song of the robin can now be heard again.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Day 80: What came before?

Day 80: What came before?, originally uploaded by susanvg.

Sometimes I take photographs because I am caught by the visual; sometimes photographs are about the story. I met a friend for brunch in a cafe in Toronto. The building it is in was built in the early 20th century as a factory for Model T Fords. We ate in what was once the showroom. Take away the tables, the counter, the people and picture the shiny new cars parked near the pillars. Perhaps a few people should remain in this image, marvelling over the vehicles, anxious to try one, yet reticent at the same time. Times were changing. In 2009, it is hard to imagine life without cars. We take them for granted as part of our lives and the landscape. But if these pillars could talk they would have other stories to tell.

Read more about the story of this building on this photograph.

Day 79: Shadows

Day 79: Shadows, originally uploaded by susanvg.

I find shadows fascinating - replicas of reality but also distortions. The street lamp drew these branches on the garage door - an ephemeral piece of art to be viewed in the moment. Shadows can be pale replicas or larger than life.

As life casts shadows on us, we react in different ways, sometimes growing from it and sometimes letting the shadow grow larger than it merits, immobilizing us through our worry. Carl Sandburg said, “Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance.” So I shall try to make a poem of my life and dance with the shadows.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Day 78: How to Measure Time

Day 78: How to Measure Time, originally uploaded by susanvg.

I've lived in my home for over twenty years. These trees have stood here much longer. There are some details in this image, difficult to make out, that measure how much time has passed. When I first moved in a metal wire went around the tree and was attached to the bit of metal fence at the bottom. Its purpose? I'm not sure - perhaps to keep out the neighbouring children. If you look carefully you will see a slight bulge and a line on the trunk on the left; the tree tried hard to push off that wire. The scars remain, like lines drawn on a wall to measure a child's growth.

In the tree on the right, there is a string hanging down. There was once a usable clothes line. The pulley has been swallowed by the years of growth. The tree's girth now hides all but the string.

Time can be measured in many ways. Sometimes it is more interesting to measure it through signs rather than in the artificial notation of years, months, days, seconds.... Measuring time through change.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Day 77: Basil Loves Yogourt

Day 77: Basil Loves Yogourt, originally uploaded by susanvg.

Apologies for the quality of the photograph; I grabbed my camera and it was not on the right setting. This is my cat, Basil and he loves yogourt. When I buy this size container, I know it will produce some entertainment. Once I have finished eating, I put the container down and Basil gets to work. At first he licks daintily down the sides, but then he really digs in, getting his head stuck. For a number of years he would try to back away, sometimes slinking all around the room. Of course, eventually the container would fall off, proving that his technique worked. Recently he began using a new strategy - nodding his head from side to side as he licks inside the container. While this strategy is no more effective than his former one, eventually the container does fall off.

He never seems perturbed by his predicament; in fact he sometimes digs in again if he thinks there may still be some yogourt left, getting his head stuck for a second time.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Day 76: A Hint of Green

Day 76: A Hint of Green, originally uploaded by susanvg.

The mercury went up; we seem to be having an unusually early spring. March, known for heavy, wet snowfalls, has been sunny and no snow is forecast for the next few days. It always amazes me that as soon as the snow shrinks back, flower sprouts start to appear. These are in a protected area that not only gets sun but has warmth reflected from a stone wall. It is always a pleasure to see the first signs of growth. Each time I go out walking, I search for little changes.

It was a day for walking outdoors, with temperatures reaching 13C (55F). Walking with my jacket open felt liberating. It's funny that temperatures that make us zip up in fall feel warm in spring. The terrace was open at the local cafe and people were enjoying their coffees in the unexpected warmth. High on a tree branch, a cardinal serenaded all who passed. Spring doesn't wait for the calendar.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Day 75: Sunset on the St. Lawrence

Montreal is an island, yet most of the time we are barely aware of it as we do not go anywhere near the shore. In winter, the views from the hills afford glimpses of the river; foliage in summer blocks it out in many places. A friend of mine has chosen to live by the water's edge and tonight I had supper there. The sunsets are splendid with the sun sinking over the water, near a spit of park land that reaches into the river. From the photograph you would think you were in the country.

The seagulls were already near the water, holding their evening meeting and my friend reported having seen a few mallards earlier. They must be well-insulated to swim in the water so recently freed from the ice. With the ever changing skies and the seasons, the view from her window is a daily surprise to marvel at.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Day 74: An Old Tree

Day 74: An Old Tree, originally uploaded by susanvg.

This old tree has witnessed much in its lifetime. It must be in the vicinity of one hundred years old. The houses in this neighbourhood are more recent. Some have been around for about 85 years - mine was built in 1936. Was the tree part of a forest and allowed to remain? When the homes were built, there were not many at first. Now it is right in the middle of the city.

Back when this tree was young, some milkmen still delivered their products by horse drawn wagons. There were streetcars in the neighbourhood. Now a subway system transports people around the city. And supermarkets have made most milkmen redundant. This tree has seen so many changes.

What has this tree sheltered? Despite being in a city, there is abundant wildlife in the neighbourhood: squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, skunks, raccoons and even an occasional fox. There are a number of different birds, both those that stay and those that pass through on their way north or south. Is the hole in this trunk serving as a home? Do animals burrow under the roots?

If only trees could talk, what stories they would tell!

Day 73: Sit down to dinner

Day 73: Sit down to dinner, originally uploaded by susanvg.

The end of a day and no photograph worthy of posting. Food always makes a good subject.

Sitting down to dinner is so much more than eating. Food is so essential to our lives. It gives sustenance and for those of us fortunate enough to live in places of plenty we revel in the variety of colours, tastes, aromas and textures. A meal shared is more than the food - it is the conversation, the sips of wine. Slow food. The stir fried chicken is in a pottery dish made by a potter whom I know. Each time I fill it with food, memories of shared times at CAMMAC, a music camp in the Laurentians escape. The items on the table add to the experience - their beauty, memories and even functionality create an ambiance which sets this time aside from the rest of the day.

So much more than the sum of the parts and so much better than fast food.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Day 72: Sitting Outside

Day 72: Sitting Outside, originally uploaded by susanvg.

There comes a time in March when the sun actually feels warm. A chair outside in a sheltered spot, a good book and fresh air - life is good. Although I was bundled in winter wear – heavy jacket, boots, hat and scarf, it felt like outdoor life was beginning again.. This is not to say we hibernate all winter. However, usually when outdoors, we have to keep moving. As the weather mellows, we slowly creep outdoors to sit and catch the warmth. Whether in the country, or the city, you see people with faces upturned reaching for the sun’s rays.

Day 71: Country Walk

Day 71: Country Walk, originally uploaded by susanvg.

A few days in the country do wonders for me. I can feel everything relax and slow down. Walking on a crisp day, resplendent with sunshine, is glorious. Deep green evergreens stand out against the cerulean blue sky. Each branch of the leaf-shedders is silhouetted in detail against the pristine snow. In the quiet of the country it is easy to hear bird calls – chickadees, crows and others, unidentified, chattering away in the boughs of the pines. Here and there, the river breaks open from its ice cover. Rushing over rocks, travelling too fast to freeze it adds its voice.

What a delight to see the rolling hills of the Laurentians still snow-covered and to breathe the clear country air. Time is measured differently – not by minutes but by activities – a slow breakfast, meandering walk, leisurely lunch and on through a day of no shoulds and musts. And in the evening sitting by a crackling fire, mesmerized by the flames, time seems to stand still.

Day 70: Montreal Bagels

Day 70: Montreal Bagels, originally uploaded by susanvg.

There are not many things that are still made by hand. Machines have taken over many jobs, but Montreal bagels are the exception. We take pride in our bagels. In fact we brag that they are the true bagels and anything else is just imitation or rolls with holes. The recipe was brought from the “old country” and replicated to perfection. They are baked in wood-fired ovens and the dough is shaped by hand. One of the key secrets to our bagels is that they are dipped in hot water, sweetened with honey, before the seeds are added. Then they are put on a plank to load them into the oven to bake. It is impossible to resist eating one as soon as you buy them as they are so fresh they are still hot. The aroma, the taste, the texture all contribute to the pleasure of partaking.

We have a few places that make bagels this way and there is always fierce debate about which makes them the best. There are even bagel bakeries that are open all night should you have a yen for a bagel. And perfection is a bagel topped with cream cheese, smoked salmon and, maybe, a few capers. Now that is living!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Day 69: Not for chickens

Day 69: Not for chickens, originally uploaded by susanvg.

Driving can be hazardous in Montreal. In winter we fight snow and ice and then there is pothole season. After a winter of freezes and thaws (e.g. tomorrow they predict a high of 9C with rain and by Thursday night it will be -13C) they appear on every street. The rain gets in, freezes and expands and works away at the pavement.

I love the French term, nids-de-poule - chicken nests. But they are certainly not for chickens. Our streets turn into slalom courses as we weave in and out trying to avoid them. The car in the photograph is driving down the middle of a two-way street. Then there are the nature-made speed bumps as the earth heaves and settles with the weather. They have wounded many a car. Wheel alignments and suspension problems keep mechanics busy.

Occasionally the holes become so large that they seem more like ostrich nests than chicken nests. There are even web sites telling us how to deal with potholes and where to report them. So I drive carefully - eyes looking down, ready for the jolt as you hit the bottom of a particularly large one.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Day 68: Lights in the Sky

Day 68: Lights in the Sky, originally uploaded by susanvg.

I walked out this evening to see a beautiful moon, crisp and bright in the evening sky. This photograph does not do it justice. Just to the side, the lights of an antenna flashed and two thoughts went through my head. ET where are you? the antenna seemed to be calling out to the moon. My second thought was of the many people who were hunkered down in their dwellings receiving the signal from the television antenna, oblivious to the magnificent moon.
We live in a world where the virtual becomes more real to many people's lives than the physical world. People talk of their television "friends" as if these were actual friends and discuss episodes of shows. I suppose we have always escaped into forms of fantasy, whether through books or storytelling. But television shows come along with a whole ideology, presented through the advertising, product placements and the story lines.
The moon is often a symbol of romance - a television antenna is just that and nothing more.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Day 67: Stairways

Day 67: Stairways, originally uploaded by susanvg.
These stairways are pretty typical in parts of Montreal. There are two theories on why they were so popular in a city where winter takes hold for almost 5 months a year and shovelling would be essential to make them usable. The practical one is that rather than having staircases indoors which would take up usable space they were built outdoors and were thus not taxed as part of the building. The second theory has to do with the Catholic Church whose hold on the city lasted many years longer than winter. Having staircases outdoors meant that young lovers would not have places to loiter and more. The young women's modesty would be preserved. Whatever the reason, driving through parts of Montreal built on either side of the turn of the last century you will see many of these steep staircases winding their way up to second floor entrances.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Day 66: Feeling Deflated

Day 66: Feeling Deflated, originally uploaded by susanvg.

Do you ever feel tired and down? You think the morning after is bad? Imagine the season after! Sometimes you just need a pick-me-up. Spring is coming but there is no spring left in this fellow's feet. Walking in the warmer weather was like a breath of fresh air - he needs more than a breath of air in him to revive.

A remnant of another season, ready to be put away, but hanging on until all the snow is gone. I wonder if he'll be back next winter.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Day 65: Handicapped Cadillac?

Day 65: Handicapped Cadilac?, originally uploaded by susanvg.

A little grocery shopping brought me to this parking lot where this old Cadillac sat. Its long body, showing signs of its age, rested near the handicapped parking sign - a reference to the car or its owner?

I remember the cars of this vintage, from a time when gas was cheap and cars grew longer each year - no oil crisis or environmental awareness then - just the feeling that car was king. These beasts, possessing no catalytic convertors or any attempts to lower their appetite for fuel, cruised our roads and highways. Going for a drive was an activity to do on a weekend.

Looking around the lot there are still large vehicles - SUVs and vans that continue to spew the remnants of burning fossil fuels - but there are signs of a change. There are smaller cars, too and hybrids. And maybe there's a shift in attitude, with the car becoming more of a means of getting somewhere and less an activity in and of itself as the monetary and environmental costs of fuel soar.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Day 64: Ready for music

Day 64: Ready for music, originally uploaded by susanvg.

To me, one of life's great pleasures is playing music. Today, I played baroque music with friends (recorders, violin, viola da gamba and harpsichord). This harpsichord lives at my friends' home. They have filled their lives with music, playing a variety of instruments, singing and welcoming friends to make music with them.

Telemann, Scarlatti, Purcell - we filled the afternoon with their compositions, communicating with each other and with the past, when this music was composed. Through their music we danced, felt joy, shared moments of exquisite beauty, experienced sorrow and laughed.

Playing together requires trust, listening and risk-taking as well as a level of technical and musical expertise.But when a movement works, the satisfaction is enormous. It's about teamwork, about collaboration, and mainly about communicating our musical ideas so that together we have something to say.

Nietsche said "Without music life would be a mistake." I have to agree.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Day 63: Norman Bethune

Day 63: Norman Bethune, originally uploaded by susanvg.

On my way to an appointment, I passed this statue of Norman Bethune, a Canadian who was largely ignored here until relatively recently, but who is revered in China. In the photograph he is in shadow, perhaps emphasizing his lack of renown. For years he was the favourite roost of pigeons, who decorated him with their droppings. He was recently cleaned.

Bethune was an idealist who lived his beliefs until his death. As a doctor he was an innovator; as a humanitarian he spoke out for the poor, pressing for socialized medicine. After serving in the Canadian Medical Corps in the Spanish Civil War, he joined Mao Tse Tung in China, training doctors and operating a mobile medical clinic. He died in China from blood poisoning.

It's interesting to see connections. Bethune did not succeed in convincing politicians of the need for medical care for all. The father of Canada's medicare was Tommy Douglas. His one time son-in-law, Donald Sutherland, produced a film about Bethune and portrayed him in it. You can see an interview with Sutherland and learn more here. Sutherland, of course, played in M.A.S.H. and in the interview points out that Bethune really set up the first M.A.S.H. unit in Spain.

It is not the heroes who seek adulation who are truly heroes - but rather those, who for altruistic reasons, follow their beliefs simply because they see no other way to live.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Day 62: On a Clear Day...

Day 62: On a Clear Day..., originally uploaded by susanvg.

I love to walk on clear wintry days. As Montreal is situated on hills, there are often incredible views that change with the seasons. Now all is open, the bare trees hide nothing. Some days smog hangs over the city, but today the sky was a pristine blue. If you look carefully, you can see a ribbon of lighter colour in the distance - that is the St. Laurence River (Montreal is an island), and further back the outline of two more hills.

Time of day, time of year, weather all play to change what is there for us to see. But first we have to look. So often our moods, thoughts and life concerns focus us inward. So stop a moment and admire the view.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Day 61: Casting Shadows

Day 61: Casting Shadows, originally uploaded by susanvg.

As the eyes are opened you start to see - to notice colours, patterns, textures around you that you overlooked before. At the end of a day of shuffling papers, filing and digging out from my chaotic mountains of mail, I started to look around for a subject to photograph. I noticed this pattern on the ceiling, cast by the lamp that hangs in my hall. We usually look at what the light is shining down on - here we are reversed. How often do we overlook ideas seeing only the obvious? Time to look with the mind as well as the eyes to see what is behind the scenes.

Day 60: Indoor Sunshine

Day 60: Indoor Sunshine, originally uploaded by susanvg.

It's about this time of year that I start to crave colour. The monochromatic winterscape, though beautiful starts to lose its magic. I need yellows and oranges - the bright shades of warmth. I have many flowering plants in my house, but most are pinks and whites - lovely orchids. This kalanchoe exudes the sunny shades that speak spring to me. This morning I could feel the warmth of the sun through my windows; a bright red cardinal sang at the top of a nearby tree. But the outdoor temperatures are still below freezing and the snow and ice blanket the lawns. No signs of spring yet. So I find colour inside, a reminder of what is soon to come.