Harbinger of spring, these bright yellow flowers brighten my backyard. Nature has been refreshing its colour palette, changing from the neutral browns of early spring to the riotous colours of summer. In bursts, the landscape moves from sepia to technicolour.
Thursday, April 30, 2009
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Montreal is a mix of old and new. Like many cities, some of our heritage has been lost to new developments, but we are getting a little better at preserving our history. This old house, now part of a small museum is thought to be the oldest intact building on the island. The house was built in 1669 (about 25 years after Montreal was founded) and housed the oldest fur trading post in Lachine (a suburb of Montreal). The fur traders set out from here and not Montreal because it was past the Lachine rapids which were not navigable by boat. Now a museum, the house was built on land bought from René-Robert Cavelier de LaSalle, the first Seigneur in this area (better known as an explorer) to house the employees of LeBer and Le Moyne.
I try to imagine it at the time it was built. There were certainly no electric or telephone wires! It was surrounded by dense forest, facing the river. A small colony grew up around the fur trade as the coureurs des bois needed provisions and the traders needed a place for their goods. The steep roof was built that way so snow could not accumulate. Even today there are occasional roof cave-ins in modern buildings because people do not clear the snow off them. But it is no longer winter and my thoughts are on the beautiful spring weather.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Spring is the ephemeral season. Nothing lasts; change is constant. Each day the sights from yesterday have morphed into new delights. These ferns, just tiny fiddleheads yesterday, started to unfurl; tomorrow they may point their fronds skyward. The trees are dappled with delicate green lace like pointillist paintings. It is definitely my favourite season.
Monday, April 27, 2009
With temperatures reaching 30C (86F) today, spring burst forth. Daffodils, tulips and magnolias have all gone into production, their blossoms baked into blooming by the sun. Magnolias that were closed in the morning sat on branches like butterflies sunning their wings. A few have already shed some of their petals. Tomorrow we expect more seasonable weather which, hopefully, will slow down the process so we can enjoy these magnificent magnolias a little longer.
Sunday, April 26, 2009
Geese honking overhead, heading north. We see great vees passing over and wonder at their tenacity and strength. They know what teamwork is, the vees changing shape as leaders change to give each a chance at riding the currents of the one before. Driving in the country we passed fields where the geese had stopped to rest and feed.
So much I don't understand about how the birds know their routes and travel so far. So much to wonder at.
Below is part of a flock we saw a couple of days ago - this is a back vee, part of a much larger flock. I love the sound as they go overhead.
It's that time of year when you don't know what season it is. Saturday's high 28C (82F). Plants start to grow at an alarming rate. A thunderstorm brought the temperature down to about 5C (41F) overnight. Then today, a more seasonable high of 15C (59F). It's yoyo season temperature-wise. Tomorrow a high of 30C (86F) and by early Tuesday morning it should have dropped to -1C (30F). What are these plants going to do? ungrow? The plants that are susceptible to the cold are kept in protected areas like this temporary structure until gardening season starts in earnest (usually around May 20) when chances of frost are minimal.
But I, like the plants, am having a hard time adapting to the sudden summer-like temperatures. I wilt and lose energy. Each day is a challenge of what to wear with layers being the only answer. You need to have your entire wardrobe ready from gloves and hats to shorts and t-shirts - and all can be worn in one day!
Friday, April 24, 2009
The first time I drove along the roads near Embrun and saw alpacas I did a double-take. We are not in Peru! It seems there are a number of alpaca farms in the neighbourhood. Before Christmas, there were kiosks on the main street in Casselman with craftspeople selling their products. An alpaca farm had socks, mitts and other goods made from alpaca wool. Standing beside the kiosk, in a pen, were two alpacas. I fell in love. They have very sweet faces and incredibly thick, soft wool.
The fields here are not yet green, so the alpacas are feasting on hay from last season. I wonder if they are looking forward to the sweet new growth.
I spend part of my time in a small community in rural Ontario not far from Ottawa. Here you often see the flag representing the French speaking Ontario people - part fleur-de-lis and part trillium. Canada is a complex country with two official languages not equally served across the provinces. With Quebec, decidedly French, the rest of Canada is predominantly English-speaking. Ontario has pockets of French communities, particularly near the Quebec border and in the north. In Casselman this large flag greets you as you come off the highway. Many homes fly the flag on their lawns. Pride of place - in a sea of English in North America.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Two days of rain have really greened up the city. The grass has taken on its verdant hue. Bushes show signs of leaves. Each day brings new discoveries. My tulips seem to grow before my eyes. In Montreal, spring, once primed, goes into fast forward.
Now I watch the squirrels carefully. So often, just as these tulips are about to open, I find headless stems and petals scattered around. Moth balls in the garden, cayenne pepper, I've tried it all to no avail. It makes each tulip that manages to open, despite the squirrels' midnight raids, that much more precious.
A plant is sometimes so much more than a plant. It holds a history, has a past. My mother loved plants. This leaf has a direct line to her and to my past. As her dieffenbachia got leggy, she would chop the stem and re-root the pieces to create new plants. All her family and friends had cuttings from her plants.
I continue her example, nurturing plants, making cuttings when I can and sharing with friends and family. We pass on genes, but we pass on family and friendship in so many other ways.
Monday, April 20, 2009
I love these blue flowers. They spread wherever they like, perhaps assisted by the local squirrels. They don't stay within the lines of the flower beds but proliferate as they please, cutting a swath over lawns or popping up in odd places.
These scylla are among our first flowers; their splashes of blue a welcome change after months of white.
We walked up on the mountain from the eastern side. This was my first encouter with the group that meets on Sundays to stage mock medieval battles, equipped with plastic weapons. If only all battles took place this way! I marvel at how everyone finds a place for themselves on Mount Royal. As we walked we saw many joggers and cyclists, challenging their hearts as they climbed up the incline. Others were out walking with dogs of all sizes and shapes.
In one spot, young men had tied loose ropes between trees and were practising walking on the loose rope. As we walked we could hear the tamtam drums. Each Sunday people gather and drum together, dance and just enjoy the sunshine.
Walking was wonderful!
The bakery bills itself as artisinal. They make many specialty breads, some with ancient grains like spelt and kamut. Pans of desserts sit in the window to entice people in and away from the more impersonal supermarket reflected in the window. Speed shopping - that is what we often do - everything in one place. I love to patronize the smaller specialty stores, the bakeries, fruit stores, fish stores - but the realities of life often make me opt for expediency. Today was a slower shopping day.
Saturday, April 18, 2009
Here is one of the older buildings in Old Montreal, built in 1725. Most of it is now part of an inn. You can find out more about it here.
Each year in June the Montreal Baroque Festival takes place. The director Susie Napper is ingenious at both programming and finding unique spots for concerts. One year I went to a concert in the attic of this house. We were told that the attic had not been used for years. Susie, herself, helped sweep and clean in order for it to be ready for the concert.
The steps leading up to the attic were narrow and dark. You climbed more by sense than by sight. One of the performers, Matthew Wadsworth, a wonderful lute player is blind. I think he had an advantage on the stairs. We sat, transfixed, in this secret spot, listening to music of the Renaissance and the Middle East. A magical moment.
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Another concert - this time in one of my favourite churches, Notre-Dame-de-Bonsecours. It was known as the sailors' church as the back of the church faces what used to be the port. Sailors would come to pray before going off to sea. Many left carvings of ships which can be seen hanging inside the church. This is one of the oldest churches in Montreal. The original church was built not long after the founding of Montreal. After a fire, this chapel was built (1771). You can learn more about it here.
I have renamed the church Notre-Dame-de Musique-Ancienne (Our Lady of Early Music) as I attend many concerts here. Church attendance is down and the demographics of the area have changed. While the church still functions as a church it is maintained by revenue from tourists (it doubles as a museum) and rentals. Several early music groups hold concert series here. I'll be there again tomorrow for another concert.
Tonight's concert - Les Boréades and Ensemble Caprice - some wonderful Renaissance music played on a matched consort of instruments. There were also modern compositions - interesting, but they don't touch me the same way.
Tomorrow's concert Clavecin en concert (information in French). Life is very rich.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Hope springs eternal. Montreal is a hockey town. Now it is infected with playoff fever. Many cars sport the Canadiens flag, whipping in the wind.
I grew up with hockey - it's all that was on television on a winter Saturday night. We watched the grainy black and white images and rooted for our team. Back then there were only six teams, so rivalry was particularly intense. Tonight the playoffs start, with our beloved Habs playing one of the original six, the Bruins. Our team has injuries and is not playing from the strength of the glory days of the past - the players I remember - Jacques Plante in nets, Henri Richard, Jean Beliveau, Yvan Cournoyer. And of course, Toe Blake pacing behind the bench in his fedora.
I haven't really followed sports in many years, though my interest perks up as playoffs roll around. Now it is my children who hoop and holler and support the team. I haven't bought a flag for my car - but maybe I should for old time's sake.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
I saw the sun was setting and wanted to catch that light that seems to set buildings on fire. Instead I found a soft light bathing the city, the sky and the mountains in the distance. As I hear of rivers overflowing in other parts of the country, I watch our mighty river flowing up to Quebec City and then off into the gulf. The hills in Montreal give us splendid views, but also views showing how much the city has spread out beyond the other side of the river.
Monday, April 13, 2009
Hints of spring as flowers sprout on tree branches. For some, this is the start of allergy season. For me, each little change heralds the new season. Each day I delight in new evidence of the transition - the aroma of the earth as it comes out of its frosty grip, the song of birds coming home, the sweet, sticky taste of newly made maple syrup and the many sight of new growth.
Our harsh winters make serious gardeners find ways to protect their less hardy plants. Many are still covered. I passed a garden full of the white "hats" seen on top of this mysterious plant. The lawn looked like a cemetary full of white tombstones.
I let my plants fend for themselves. Those that survive are meant to live in this climate. I guess that is true of people too. I don't mind winter but I have many friends who try to escape for all or part of the winter. They come back in March and huddle in their coats like this plant, while I start to shed my winter layers, warmed by the sun.
Saturday, April 11, 2009
A gorgeous day for a walk. We went to Mount Royal Park, our gem in the centre of the city. Each season has special features. Today the smell of the decaying leaves was evident - a fresh spring aroma. There were signs of the awakening vegetation, bits of green poking out and flower buds on a number of trees.
Walkers, cyclists, babies in strollers, people with dogs, older people - all were out enjoying being out of the city while still in it. Many languages could be heard as we walked. As a challenge, we tackled the Trafalgar staircase, about 200 steps. In the photo you may notice most of the people are walking down. The walk up is spectacular as the view extends as you get higher. This time of year you can see through the trees to downtown, to the river, to the mountains in the distance. Soon the leaves will veil the view, enclosing walkers into the forest.
Walking through Montreal, I came across these characters who stare down at all who pass. They are visitors from the past. I wonder who they represent; what is their message.
Montreal has a mix of architecture, with a very few buildings surviving from the 18th century to modern. streamlined structures. I ate dinner at a restaurant facing one of the faceless structures - rows of flat windows which seemed opaque, surrounded by concrete. There was nothing decorative on the structure. I do like clean lines - the simplicity of Danish teak - but the wood itself emanates warmth. Many buildings of the 70s simply are function, with no feeling.
Walking lets me notice all the details from a time when craftmanship was respected and form was considered as important as function.
Friday, April 10, 2009
Holidays bring family together. Tonight we were eleven for dinner. Along with the immediate family there was my nephew who came in from Ottawa just for the evening. My wonderful 91 year old cousin was here. Our grandmother had been married twice. Her mother was the oldest from the first marriage; my mother was from the second marriage. She and my mother were only four years apart. Although our ages are quite different, our relationship is very close. She tells wonderful stories and brings a sense of history to the table. She is a connection to my mother long ago in Russia. Her son and friend joined us from Boston. Another cousin was here - we are distant in terms of the way we are related, but close in terms of our feelings. It is not blood or close family ties that makes a family. Both our mothers came over "on the boat" together. We share history, travels, and many life events.
The family shrinks and grows. While at this time and always, we miss those who are gone, our family is enriched by those who now share our holiday meals - those new relations and relationships that are now family. The warmth we share, the caring for each others' lives, the shared laughter and tears - that is what makes family!
Thursday, April 9, 2009
Nature is a tease this time of year. On warmer sunny days, the brave crocuses open up. As soon as the temperature goes down they fold their petals and huddle to stay warm. We have had a few of those cold days, so, though there are many signs of growth, with shoots coming out of the ground, there is little colour. In some places the grass is showing signs of green, but mostly there is a monochrome look to the landscape.
My trip to the market yielded a garden of tulips for inside my house. I need that burst of colour. It puts a smile on my face each time I stop and look.
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
I was at the market today. There are stores that operate all winter. The outdoor stalls won't be open for another few weeks. Much as I would love to buy local produce, most of what we have is imported, especially this time of year. But what an abundance! With a weekend of holidays coming the stalls seemed stocked more than ever, with varieties of vegetables rarely seen, from miniature cauliflower of different hues, to exotic eggplants. There are tomatoes of every colour and potatoes of every shape. As usual, I carried home too much and will be spending a lot of time in the kitchen cooking. But what a pleasure to set a table with freshly made food.
And, of course, I bought flowers - fresh cut tulips from Holland. The man at the stall swore he had been there and back this morning. That is the other part I love about going to the market. The sales people are friendly, not just efficient. I often go back to the same stall for my vegetables. They know me know and there is always time taken for a friendly hello and a chat. A trip to the supermarket is a chore; a trip to the market is an adventure.
Music is the universal language of mankind. ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Music transcends age and language. The recorder orchestra I play in, Flutissimo, played a joint concert with a group of young musicians from Lyon in France. The age of the Lyon group ranged from 8 - 22 (plus one older graduate from the program). The oldest member of our group is 81. Their group functions in French; ours in English and French. But music binds us together. The lithe figure in black, directing the Lyon group is 86! She had travelled with the group (plus other chaperones), was dealing with jet lag, had spent a busy day and yet had more energy than many of us.
It is wonderful to see that love of music passed on with such conviction to the youngest of the group. Not only did they play beautifully, but their concentration, and discipline were evident on the stage.
The church filled with sounds from many eras and sang of love, mutual respect and awe.
Sunday, April 5, 2009
This is the steeple of Église Immaculée-Conception. I was at a concert in the church this evening - a joint effort by Studio de Musique Ancienne de Montréal and the Tallis Scholars. Both groups are celebrating 35 years of existence. What a wonderful concert! The church reverberated with the polyphonic music of the Renaissance with voices weaving in and out. It is always wonderful to hear music in the setting for which it was written and the pieces on the programme were meant to be sung in churches.
Choral music seems to make my head buzz with the sound. While I love the music, I also love the moment when it ends and the reverberation slowly dissipates. Like church bells, the sound of the voices lingers a moment before disappearing. It is so important for the audience to respect that moment of not quite silence before beginning to applaud, to make a space between the end of the music and getting back to the present.
Saturday, April 4, 2009
This old chair has been around for a long time. The pillow covers some of its nicks and dents. I wonder where it started life. I only know its more recent history. Many years ago my spouse bought it from a friend, who wanted to finance a trip to France. He had collected many antiques and decided that travel was more of a priority. For the last 30 some years the chair has moved several times with my spouse and more recently has come into my life. I'm not sure it could still bear weight; rather it sits as a reminder of times long ago. With age, it has its creaks and marks, as do we all. But it has lasted many years; I am not sure our manufactured, "put it together yourself" furniture will see the years pass as long as this chair has.
Friday, April 3, 2009
April rain started to let up as I drove along this country road. The ground is still not able to soak in the water. Signs of spring are everywhere. As I drove to Casselman last night, I saw many vees of geese flying over. I love to hear their honking as they pass over. It's funny how I never tire of the seasonal harbingers; a robin preening on the fence this morning, the sound of geese, the first signs of growth poking from the ground.
November rain can be depressing - relentless and grey, but April rain brings promise of renewal.
Thursday, April 2, 2009
A solid rain, yesterday, has washed my car. Winter is hard on cars here, with filth splashed up, sometimes as a fine mist, other times in a heavy spray. Cars begin to take on a uniform colour as the salt-laden spray coats the exteriors. Spring rain does its outdoor spring cleaning, washing away the winter grime. Streets and sidewalks are losing the layer of sand left after months of sand-spreading in attempts at keeping them accident free. In the spring sunshine, my car shone, reflecting the overhead view. Change of seasons. As spring progresses these branches will be laden with leaves, shading the car, keeping it cooler as summer approaches.
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Leonard Cohen is a favourite of mine and although I watch little television, I made a point of watching tonight's show. Cohen did not disappoint. CBC is our public broadcaster and as such is where made in Canada culture is featured.
Our current government is doing all it can to dismantle the CBC. What a mistake! Sometimes the bottom line just can't be what it is about. If all media is owned by the private sector, the groups with money get to control what all hear as the news. Fortunately, with the Internet, we have other choices, but as a small country (with a lot of land) it is important to have a national network so we can learn about and understand the regional differences, needs and issues. It is part of what fosters our national identity. I love to listen to radio and have always found CBC informative. However, with a series of budget cuts, much of what I have prized has slowly evaporated.
What a treat to have an hour with Leonard Cohen. We need to ensure that Canadian artists of the future will also have the opportunity to be featured on a national network.