Through my eyes

living my life without regrets

Saturday, February 13, 2016

2016 Winterlude, Ottawa, ON

It is already February and so far we have not had a really cold winter in Canada. The temperatures hover around 0 C. (32F) and even snow has not fallen as much as in other years. It is a good year to spend the winter months in Toronto; it feels almost like Global Warming has arrived here. Is there any need to become a snowbird and travel south to warmer areas? Where does one need to go to experience true Canadian Winter? I read somewhere that in previous years there were Ice Hotels where one could sleep for a night or more, like an Eskimo, in an igloo. This year would not be a good year to try that in Toronto, it is just too warm, and a cold winter seems to have been forgotten.
Lots of Snow in Ottawa

I asked Carol how far north we would have to travel to see some serious snow, to see some cracking cold, to find true winter. So she went on line and found the Ottawa Festival that happens every year to celebrate winter. It is called Winterlude and the focal points are winter activities and the true Canadian outdoors. It is held annually, so one would think there must be snow, ice or cracking cold, right? The highlight, why most people go to Ottawa in winter, is for fun skating on the Rideau Canal. I don’t skate, so even if it is a bit warmer than usual, I thought it would be a great idea to go and visit Canada’s Capital and spend a few days in Ottawa. There is, for sure, enough to see and the promised winter activities are just an added bonus. So we planned a date, even with an alternative date, to visit Ottawa.

We did not think the weekend before last, the end of January, was cold enough. Temperatures in Toronto climbed to 45 F. I almost took my motorcycle out for a run around the block instead of going sleigh riding. But then, last weekend the weather news was better. A cold spell hit Canada’s Capital and we thought, maybe the RideauCanal would be frozen and people would be allowed to skate on the ice. 
24 Sussex Drive, Home of Canada's Prime Minister

So off we went, it is only about a 5 hour drive to Ottawa and the weather driving north was dry and sunny; too sunny, as it turned out. We had packed heavy clothing, packed skates for Carol, and packed the car like we were going on an expedition. We packed so much clothing we could have survived a blizzard with the stuff we had on the back seat of the Prius. I have never been to Ottawa before, but Carol knew her way around the city, somewhat. She has been to the Winterlude before. So she served as my guide, my weather prophet and was my companion while traipsing through downtown Ottawa.

Rideau Canal, Closed to Skating
It is always strange to me how my mind works. I had in my head a picture of Ottawa that was not at all like the reality we visited. We talked about the park the Rideau Canal runs through, we talked about eating beaver tails, snacking on maple toffee and roasting marshmallows on an open fire. Well we did all of that but skating? No! No skating allowed; the ice was not thick enough. 
Beaver Tails, Garlic Butter and Cheese (L) and Cinnamon Sugar

We sure enjoyed the Beavertails, though. For you folks out there, it is not an animal treat. It is a flat, deep fried kind of pancake that looks like the tail of a beaver. I had mine with Cinnamon Sugar and Carol loved her garlic butter and cheese.
Pouring Concentrated Maple Syrup onto Snow to Make Maple Taffy

Maple Taffy? Delicious! A blob of pure maple syrup is dripped into snow; it is so cold it congeals. A wooden stick serves as a handle and the flavor is just awesome. A pure sugar rush!

All the Kids Roasting Marshmallows

And all of you know about roasting marshmallows over an open fire, right?  The kids here, as small as toddlers and folks as large as me, enjoyed cooking the free marshmallows. The smoke got into my eyes, I never learned to stand on the non-smokey side of the fire. Why is that?

Bed Race - This is a Medical Team
Bed Decked Out Like a Pirate Ship for the Bed Race

We did enjoy entertainment at Winterlude that was truly Canadian. Where else can you see a bed race? It is a dash with a ‘patient’ on a homemade bed frame, a run against the clock. Fastest group wins! The problem is the bed swivels sideways at high speeds and luckily there was no snow on the road, but just imagine how difficult that would be pushing, pulling through a meter of snow? It is usually held on the frozen Canal so directional control is even more difficult.
Hot Chocolate - Yum!

Where else can you get free hot chocolate served by pretty girls? Only in Canada! You could drink as much as you would like. They even served me with a smile!
Everyone Enjoyed Their Antics

I saw ‘walking’ trees! With a few ‘gnomes’ hidden inside the trunk. Some were dazzlingly funny. I think they practices their silliness in front of a mirror before coming into the public, their facial expressions were hilarious.

She Was Having As Much Fun As We Were Watching Her

Who Is Having More Fun?

Stilted Plants


Stilted plants?  Yes, they had them……great costumes, too.

I saw a tall ‘Uncle Sam’ like performer on stilts, with stripped pants and wearing a cylinder hat.

Performers  on the Rink of Dreams

Dance lessons!  Ice Dancing!  And my all times favourite……an ice slide. Like a little kid I sat on my rear end and slid down the hill, what a slick way to go. The little kids next to me where in awe that I would do this ‘dangerous’ stuff. It was fun, I loved it.

Ice Slide

Owl Ice Sculpture

Ice sculptures were rated according to originality and quality and difficulty of execution and received prizes. Some artists came from non-snow countries but knew how to sculpt. Unfortunately, the warm weather in the weeks before our visit melted some of their efforts.

Housing, shops, booths, display walls, rope guides all were made of ice.

Small tykes learned how to downhill ski on very small hills. That would have been perfect for me, but they did not have my size of ski.

Kids on Push Sleds Riding on the Runners
Push sled races, where you use your legs like on a skateboard and then jump on for a bit of a ride were given out so kids could practice.

And throughout all of that the music played, dancers were on stage, a competition of ‘sculptors’ were competing on their block of ice. Free samples were given out by the Metro Food Store, by Vaseline, the cosmetic manufacturer, wooden burned engravings were given to kids, etc.

The place was humming with activity.   But …………No skating on the Canal!
No matter the not so frozen Canal, Winterlude was still going on. There were lots of visitors from all over the world. In our B&B we even met a Dr. from Mexico City who wanted to learn what ‘cold’ really meant. Well she got some kind of idea but I told her she has to come back when it is minus 30. The coldest actual temp we experienced was minus 9 C. The wind that blew off the Ottawa River however was strong and it might have been colder considering the wind chill factor. We were dressed for the occasion; triple layers under warm jackets helped a lot; the free hot drinks, helped, too, of course. We covered the town as best we could.

Centre Block of the Parliament Buildings

 One day we visited the famous Parliament Buildings. We even took the free, guided, tour. An explanation of the political system in Canada helps when you come and visit. Luckily, I ‘kind of’ knew how the Canadian System works and is organized; totally different from the U.S. system, for example. While the U.S. is a Republic (the law rules), Canada is a Constitutional Monarchy (the Queen is the head of State). Those are fine points but add up to a totally different way of living and add up to having the parliamentary system organized differently. Just to be able to visit Ottawa and take the tour of the Parliament complex is worth a visit. Come and visit Canada.
Looking at the Main Rotunda From Above

The Parliament building itself is an amazing feat of craftsmanship. It was rebuilt in 1916 after a ravaging fire destroyed all of the old installation except the library, (someone closed the metal doors when they left and that saved the library).  The room of the library has exceptional details and a very surprising sense of beauty. No matter where I went, no matter where I looked, each wooden joint was perfect. Each mason miters true, each metal solder a work of art. The pride, the long range view showed throughout each room of Parliament. The library itself is simply stunning; containing books that would add up, stacked, from earth to
Inside the Library
the moon. I did not see any wires hanging lose, yet the building is up to the latest technology. The decor might be a bit too old British and somehow too ‘castle’ looking but then, don’t forget, this was the style of 1916. It is a very impressive building, even today, 100 years later. No wonder Canadians are very proud of their Parliament Buildings. They should be! It is a marvelous statement of their unity.

House of Commons - Speaker of the House Sits At Far End

We drove around the town, too.  It was the best way to see the extended area. I wanted to see the outskirts, wanted to see the expensive homes, wanted to see the green spaces and get a general feeling for Ottawa. While not a huge city it is a substantial place. I understand that Ottawa was chosen as the Capital of Canada in 1857 and in 1867 was retained as the National Capital after Confederation. The reasons for having made this town the Capital are interesting. 
Firstly the city has distinct geographical advantages. It sits on the border between East and West Canada (think of the year 1857). Towards the East most people speak French, even today. Going west it is almost exclusively English Speaking. Ottawa sits between Quebec and Ontario. In fact, once you cross the Ottawa River the language changes. We met folks at our Inn who had a difficult time speaking English and I could only tell them that I don’t speak French (in French). It was a bit strange to be in a country with a dual language set up, yet most English speakers really don’t speak French that well, if at all. 

But it gets worse! I wondered what the name Ottawa means so I looked it up. The word comes from the Algonquins who named the river “Ottawa”. The meaning and pronunciation and sound were written down by Jesuits Priests long ago: Outaouak, Outauas or Outaouais! At least that is how the Jesuits heard the names when they arrived. So the meaning of the word Ottawa means ‘the great River’?  Well that did not satisfy me, since it only named the River. So I dug a little further and came up with the name of the hill that Parliament sits on, at least now I have a spot and not a river. So here it goes: Kichi Sipi! Huh?  In the language of the Kichesipirini (an Algonquin nation) who inhabited the area, the spot was named, and still is named ‘Kichi Sipi’, which means the ‘Great River’. So I gave up, Ottawa means a spot on the Great River of the North. (The name Ottawa comes from the Algonquin tribe Odawa meaning, "traders", is another explanation I heard). Good enough for me. 

Secondly, Ottawa in 1857 was sufficiently far away from the U.S. border. Canada had some bad taste in their mouths from the War of 1812 and wanted to not be near the U.S. border or the sea. I will leave you with the history study of the useless war of 1812, look it up.

While driving I saw lots and lots of government buildings. Ministries, Consulates and Administration buildings were all in admirably good condition and showed wealth. Yes, Canada, according to what is shown in their capital is a wealthy county. There are no shortcuts taken on anything. Each person we met who worked for the government had some kind of uniform, some kind of marking on them that made them look ‘official’. I could not help but notice that. Even cleaning personal wore outfits that made them stand out and I just knew they were the maintenance crews. The country is run by rules, by organized citizens, by laws that were instituted and are being followed. A stop sign means STOP, even when you can see for miles that there is no traffic coming. Everybody in Canada will stop, and then proceed. A red light for pedestrians is being observed as if they were partakers in the traffic rules. You wait until the light turns green before you cross the street, no matter the traffic or lack thereof. This is Canada; this is how Canada is set up and Canadians pride themselves being that way.

Come and visit Ottawa and see it yourself.
One Section of the Museum of Canadian History

Indian Mask
I did take almost one day to just visit the Canadian Museum of History. The special exhibition featured the Vikings and it was quoted that they, not Christopher Columbus, visited the Americas first. I don’t really care what European was in Canada first. Aboriginals have lived in Canada for at least 12,000 years, what really does it mean that some Europeans came and visited. The Vikings did not stay; they just left after some time and left their ruins behind in Newfoundland.  I found it much more interesting to visit the exhibition of the West Coast People (Tsimshian) and how their culture influenced our lives. Especially after reading the great book ‘The Golden Spruce  

Tsimshian Painting


Chief's Head Dress With Computer Screen in Centre?

An art exhibition near the Winterlude showed a mix of old and new native art in strange ways. A chief’s regalia head dress with a computer screen at its center?  I do not know that it was supposed to mean. But then I don’t always know art, especially modern art. Judge for yourself looking at the pictures!

 The visit to Ottawa is not just Winterlude; it is visiting Canada, the heart of Canada. I am not sure if summers or winters are the best times, but no matter the time of year, Ottawa is worthwhile to visit anytime. Of course the city has Restaurants galore, shopping malls, no parking, traffic, some weird people, etc. but this is all part of the experience. N’est-ce pas? It was a good long weekend and I might do it again sometime. 
More Ice Sculptures

Barricades Made From Blocks of Ice

Elk Head Carving

Kids Were Allowed to Try Ice Carving Under Supervision

Many of the Delicate Sculptures Had Partially Melted

Piano and Stool Carved Out of Ice

Photographs Embedded in a Large Block of Ice

One of the Photographs

Another of the Photographs

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Ahlen, D

Ahlen, D

Travelling seems like it has always been a part of my life. I was handed off as a kid, at almost any occasion possible. My parents both worked; on every school vacation I would have been a “Schlüsselkind”, a kid with a key to the front door of the house. In order not to get into trouble, because I get curious about things, I was always sent away mostly to relatives around Germany. The only ‘good’ relatives we had were in Ahlen, the town where my Mom was born. So I have lots of childhood memories in my head about Ahlen. And I still have some family to visit in Ahlen, but no longer any aunts or uncles; now I only have cousins who are still alive. I was shaped by those early experiences in Ahlen. Let it just be said that I know Ahlen like a 2nd home. Some people here in Canada have a ‘cottage’. They go there all summer long; it becomes their 2nd home away from home, at least for the weekends. My cottage was in Ahlen. I spent a lot of time there in my youth.
Banken Strasse - My Mom's Home Today 

Picture From Years Ago When It Was A Work Place 
Miner's Art 
Ahlen, when I grew up, was a mining town - Coal Mining. Most of my relatives worked in the mine, so do I call them miners? I never thought of them as miners. Each one had a very specialized way of working in or on the mines. Some were below ground, some only above ground. The people who worked below ground, working in the mine shafts were called ‘Kumpel’, kind of like the word Pal or Partner in English. Those workers were a tight knit group. Most came from Poland but were Germans, I guess. They came to Germany right after WWI, and many had very Polish names. My grandparents on my mom’s side all had Polish names but they never talked about why they had to move away from Poland, why they chose to work in the mines, etc. I know my Grandfather was, for a while, in Denmark and his history is covered in secrets so deep that nobody could find his real identity even before WWII. He had a few names that I know of, was known as Schuster, mostly, since he repaired shoes on the side. The people who worked in those mines at the time were basically very poor.

Old Coal Cart Now A Flowerbed 

I visited the apartment my grandparents rented and, wow was it small. I could hardly imagine a couple with 8 to 10 children living in this space, but they did. My mom told me that when she was little, 3 kids slept in one bed at night. She could not remember ever sleeping alone in a bed. What a life those people had. I know a lot of mining stories; luckily no story that held catastrophes.

During WWII those coal mines were targets of the Allied bombing raids because Ahlen is part of the Ruhrgebiet, the Industrial Section, that was the most bombed part of Germany. Sure we lost family in the bombing raids; sure we lost men on the front lines during the war years. Like I said, those stories could be almost part of a book. Those losses are part of the family lore and yes, even today those nights and those losses come up in conversation. They cannot be avoided, they are part of the heritage I have, part of what Germany lived through. 

I was somehow like a split personality when I grew up. There was my mom’s side and her stories, my Dad’s side and his ‘lack of’ stories. Ahlen was part of who I became, so I do visit once in a while to just shoot the breeze. 

There was a misunderstanding in meeting my cousin, Sofia. I had sent an email but the email never went through. So the date I had in my head and the hour I showed up at their house was exactly the hour nobody was home. It was a bit of a back and forth via emails to sort it out, but we did finally meet over coffee and cake. Meeting like that is typically German. You meet in the afternoon and have just that, coffee and cake. But because I came in unannounced, the cake had to be quickly bought from a store. Normally that does not happen in our family; Marianne is a great cook and prides herself in being a baker, too. So let me explain some of the family I do have and stay in contact with. I try to make it easy to understand. 

There is Sofia (we call her Sofiechen) who is my cousin. She is the oldest child of my aunt Anna.
Sofiechen has one son, Franz-Joseph (Frano) who was named after the Austrian Kaiser (Emperor).
Frano married a Rail Road Execute's daughter named Marianne. They have 2 boys who are now married and have children, too. 

And on and on it goes, the connections are so long, so complicated, you would need a road-map or a family tree to understand all the connections. Especially of you think about the fact that my grand-parents on my mom’s side had 9 children who had also, sometimes, 8 children. That means a lot of cousins, and 2nd and 3rd cousins. Does anybody you know have so many levels of relatives?  Believe me it can get complicated. Especially when there are multiple marriages, too. 

I only see a few selected people; it would be too much to see them all. Especially in today’s world when they are spread out across the globe in almost every country on Earth. We are traveling folks, it seems, not only me.

So, Carol and I had a nice visit, some laughs, and shared some memories and got updates on the latest happenings. For sure we have lost some closeness, some personal touch by me being in Canada and they being mostly in Ahlen. The situation lent itself to being pulled apart. Emotionally, though, I still like them a lot, they are family, even though it has been 50 plus years we still treat each other as relatives and not as strangers.
L to R  - Marianne, Sophia, Frano ( and me in the Background )
It was good to visit; I took some photos for old times sake. I had to just go and be part of my past for a few hours while in Europe. Ahlen was a very personal stop but a much needed and very enjoyable stop for me, too. 

We are off now to end our journey, to just drive to Frankfurt and then fly home to Toronto.

Auf Wiedersehen!  Ttschüß!  This is the last blog for 2015.

Münster, Germany, D

Munster, D

The time comes near when we have to return to Canada. I have a cousin to see in Ahlen but that is it for Europe in 2015. I am almost done with my 2015 Blogs. We are almost done traveling for this trip.

On the way back from Holland we over-nighted for a few days in Munster, just so we can make notes and sort ourselves out. Carol has never been in Munster so I thought I would show her the city famous for hosting the Westphalian Peace Treaty. A Peace Treaty that turned out to be a good treaty. It was an ingenious solution giving all parties a nod of the head and telling all of them they were right to believe whatever and however they wanted to believe! That was in Anno 1648

While Munster is a nice town, it looks like many other German cities today but her history is unique. In 1648, at the end of the 30 year war, this city was elected to be the center point, the focal point of an agreement that laid the groundwork for the Sovereignty of States whose main principles are:

1. The principle of sovereignty of the states and the fundamental right of political self determination
2. The principle of legal equality between states
3. The principle of non-intervention of one state in the internal affairs of another state

The outcome was that the Spanish Empire recognized the Netherlands as an independent ‘State’.  It was the beginning of what is today Holland. Those signed papers from this Peace Treaty are the foundation of Dutch independence and are kept in archives in De Hague. I thought it would be a good idea to show Carol how the Netherlands really got their ‘independence’. Holland was a Kingdom before 1648 but it organized itself as a Federated Republic after the Westphalian Treaty of Munster. Munster was important in those days. 

Munster (and Osnabruck) was a hot spot after the 30 year war. The war’s big question was who had the right religion. Was it a frivolous reason to fight for 30 years? Were the Catholics right? Were the Protestants correct? Catholics and Protestants had to agree on something. They could not go on and on killing each other. It was believed by each group that only the ‘righteous’ would go to heaven. It was a very serious discussion. Just imagine you could not go to ‘heaven’ if you were the wrong religion! To make it worse; if the King, Lord, Earl, Duke or whoever ruled the land forced you, the peon, to be the same religion he believed in or you would not go to heaven. God forbid! While the Royalty still dictated one's religion, that point was not changed in Munster, they agreed that both, Catholics and Protestants could go to heaven. Phew! (I wonder how they knew that.)

Such was their original thinking but then it became more and more political. One King tried to force his point of view unto the other countries, even if they were far away from them. The map of Europe was much chopped up, especially Germany and Italy.

The whole political and religious climate around 1648 was wild. And that was after they had fought already for 30 years to settle things. Not only were there Catholics and Protestants by then, they had sects such as Huguenots, Antipapists, Anabaptists, etc. So not only did the Peace Treaty of Munster settle, or started to settle the differences in religion, but it laid the ground work for modern politics too. A war for such a trivial point of view, that lasted 30 years in Europe and killed almost 50% of the total European population, finally came to some agreement. And the old town of Munster, in 1648 was the place where the Lords, Kings, Emperors and Royals convened to settle their disputes. 
It was also the city that gave the Netherlands its Sovereignty. At least it hosted the powers of the time to declare reasonable solutions to the standoffs created by different belief systems. Something we today, facing a worldwide mix of religions, could learn from. We, all of us are right; someone has to just believe that. Believe that no matter the name, no matter the method, no matter the God, we will all die and then those silly religions won’t make any difference. All of us have our own Sovereignty. Not as a group but as an individual, and some of the guidelines worked out in 1648 in Munster could (might) help us today. We just have to look at it with a different set of rules. We need to make a new peace treaty, not between Nations, but between People……worldwide!  So I copied the principles from above but now made them apply to each Person on Earth. How do they sound to you?  Could you live with those?

1. The principle of the sovereignty of a person and the fundamental right of self determination
2. The principle of legal equality between all people anyplace in the Universe.
3. The principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of another person or their belief system

The Debate Between Church And State 

The Proclamation Of Munster - Re-enacted

A Famous Year For Munster
When we arrived, Munster was having a re-enactment of the Proclamation of Peace, which Munster annually demonstrates for the general public since those days, long ago.
The Hall Where The Proclamation Of Peace Was Signed

Carol and I took a look at the meeting chamber, refurbished after WWII, where the Proclamation of Peace was signed and an oath was taken. We walked around town, visited the old Cathedral that was established when Charlemagne was still King. The name Munster comes from the Latin word Monastery. So yes, there was always a very religious majority in this location. Munster was the seat of a Bishop for hundreds of years. Munster is still mostly Catholic, even today, but things are changing.

Today, out of the 300 K population, about 60 K are students. Munster is a University town and the young people bring change with them. Munster is the bicycle city of Germany; the city is full of bicycles that are used for most anything. Going to work, to school, for recreation, for shopping……go and use your bike.

Giant Ball Size Sculptures Strewn Around A Park (Oldenburg
So how is Munster as an art city? You know where ‘weird’ thinking is King? Where there are strange points of views, where new ideas pop up? Where thinking is not so logical, but more directed by feelings, rather than facts? Carol and I saw some stuff that was so far away in thinking that I could hardly get a grasp of it. Spheres, looking like gigantic golf balls, strewn in a Park? Alberto Giacometti? As a superstar, in an exhibition given just for him? Of course I can see Picasso, who was also represented but Giacometti?

One could think that the ideas in Munster were very new, but actually Anabaptists were new in their time; different thinkers then. Out of those Anabaptists developed today’s Amish or Mennonites among other off shoots of religion. Munster did not start these trends but they sure were always in the middle of a point of view, looking for answers. Not always good answers, putting the old Anabaptists in cages and hanging them up in the sky until they died of exposure and rotted away next to the Cathedral was brutal. But then those were brutal times in 1640. 

Today, Munster is a pleasant town with a long, difficult history. Munster managed to stay alive, to teach others what they know and learned and to still stay open minded.

We actually had a pretty good stay in Munster. 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Pictures of the Gallery!

The Gallery Sign, GREAT Graphics 

So True  - And That Is An Art to Be Able To Do That -

Paul Signac 1906 - The Windmill and Canal - Rotterdam 

And Here Are The Details of Signac's Style Of Painting 

Return on Even Ground - Jan Toorop 1893 -

Rangers - Jan Toorop 1891-92

Bridge Over the Arles River - van Gogh 1888 

Le Chahut (Georges Seurat) 1889

All This Small Detail Is Part Of The Above Picture!

                                                                                             (plus an odd pic I just liked.) 
At Zeche Ahlen - The Age Of The Mammoth -