I could live there

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So many times when I will hear people say that they would love to live (permanently) in this or that city or country. Usually this comes up if they have recently travelled or read about a city or country. A few years back I heard of a Montreal couple who retired, sold their home and got rid of all their belongings and moved to Prague in the Czech Republic. It is a lovely place to visit but would you seriously want to move there permanently? I know that they did not speak Czech which is a Slavic language very similar to Polish. All they wanted was to start a new life from scratch, that requires a lot of courage and perseverance.

A few things to consider, one being language, in any foreign country if you plan to live there or spend more than a month, you need to learn at least enough of the local language to be able to function on a daily basis. No the locals will not speak to you in English it is not their language and don’t expect them to accommodate you in this age of mass tourism.  Too often people believe that it will be no problem and they can learn the lingo once they are there. Not so, not so at all.

The other things to consider is culture, ways of doing things, mentalities and social norms.  Those can be big challenges to every day life, living in a country where you are a foreign minority. Trying not to sound like an Imperialist or a Colonial. Yes at home you did things a certain way because that is the way we live here, however elsewhere it is a completely different matter. No one will accommodate you nor see things your way, you will have to adapt or else be ostracized, you are after all a foreigner. It won’t help to remind the nationals that you come from a different country or make endless comparison as if to make a point of being superior.

Cost of living always appears to be the first concern, though cost of living in many countries is not as high as Canada. In Italy the average person lived on $1500 to $1800 CDN per month as of 2011. People live in small apartments, usually a one bedroom one bathroom with a larger room serving as kitchen, dining and living room combined. A single person may live in smaller accommodation and a family would have a two bedroom apartment. No family car and if you do have a car it is small and you park on the street. If you go to work you walk, take public transit, or have a moped to ride, the price of gas at $2.15 a liter or $8.60 per gallon. At any rate employers do not provide parking at work so the fall back is Public Transit.

A friend of ours in Rome came to work at a school where he occupied a management position. He found an apartment in a trendy neighbourhood called Pigneto on the Eastern side of the City. He lived in a small one bedroom apartment in a 6 floor building. He did not know the neighbours, but they were noisy and yes cooking smells and loud conversations late at night. That is life and that is the way it is, so get use to it. There was no A/C and no clothes drier, a very small clothes washer allowing you to wash only a few items, no dishwasher and a very small fridge. Given the cost of electricity in Europe, people are forced into saving energy unless you have a lot of money to pay the high rates. So these are things you need to consider when you wish to live abroad in a country where, though similar is not the same as back home. All this of course is not apparent if you are on a vacation just passing through.

We had friends who moved to Mexico to live in Ajijic near Guadalajara on Lake Chapala, an enclave of Canadians and other ex-pats. What I did not understand was how they manage to live in an area without speaking the language. It was similar to not being able to read or write, isolation ensues and your live on the margins of society. Many come only for the Winter Season up to 6 months but if you are going to do that every year because you invested into a property and own a business or simply live there, would it not make sense to try to integrate into the local scene and not simply sticking to the ex-pat  community, which can turn into a curse.

Food and Health care is another major topic most people don’t think about, however it is very important. In every country I lived in food was always a big question. Be it Mexico, China, Italy, Poland, Egypt or Jordan, the local cuisine is very different from what we know or what we think as their local cuisine. Everywhere I went there was problems with colleagues who served up to 3 to 4 years in a particular country but hated the food. Mexico has many regional cuisines unknown to us in North America, no it is not like the chain restaurant menu. Same in China, the food was so different from one region to the next, it was a learning experience, noting like Chinese food in Canada. Italy was another shock for many who bitterly complained, from the Lasagna to the Pizza to various other meat dishes with no pasta depending on the region or province. In Egypt and Jordan where lamb and chicken dishes are common, the preparation often with yogurt and herbs is different to suit the culture. The ex-pats stayed home and were resentful that the locals would not accommodate their North American palate. Restaurants did not have kids menus, kids either ate what adults ate or stayed home with a babysitter. Funny how the local kids had none of those problems.

Health is another sensitive topic, imagine having a major operation performed in a foreign language you barely understand and needing a translator to speak to the doctor.  The care is good and often better than in Canada, but you have to trust your doctor in a foreign language. I know that in the movies they always go to the American Hospital, the reality is very different. I had operations in Italy and Poland and the care was quite good.

When we left Rome, we were not happy, we did not want to leave, though most of my colleagues could not get out fast enough. We had integrate fairly well in Italy and had friends in the City, we spoke the language reasonably well to be able to move around without help. We returned to Rome twice afterwards for private visits and though we are very comfortable in the City and have all our favourite spots including a barber shop and favourite shopping etc. It suddenly became clear to us that living permanently there would not be the same for the long term. Life in Italy is easy, but again you are a foreigner, how do you fit in. Not only do you have to be fluent in the language but you must forget what life was like back in Canada and adapt to all the little idiosyncrasies of the group and place, that is very difficult to do and requires much effort.  But if you are flexible and open minded it can be done.

Having moved within Canada from Montreal to Toronto to Ottawa to Quebec City and now Charlottetown all of whom are very different from the other though always within Canada, imagine moving abroad. I have heard to many stories of people who did move to the USA or France or England because of the similarities with Canada only to be sorely disillusioned. Maybe having to face the bitter truth that they are not as flexible as they thought and more stick in the mud types.

It really is not for everyone.

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What a party!

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Tulips grown in PEI and a sign of Spring! I thought most appropriate for our house and birthday celebrations done by our favourite florist in Charlottetown, Michael R. Most tulips in Canada are grown right here on the Island by the Canadian-Dutch community.

It was a great time with 20 friends, the cake from our neighbour a Moka Espresso Cake was wonderful, light and not too sweet. The food was great too and lots of good drink. Will made his Salmon mousse and chicken liver paté and he took care a many details, guests, etc…

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A memorable evening with beautiful gifts. One is an anonymous water colour dated April 1857, Constantine, Algeria. A wonderful surprise from our artist friend Don A. another friend brought a gift of dishes with an appetizer he had prepared. Others brought great wines and champagne.

I was quite exhausted at the end of the night, but happy to have such wonderful friends and Will.

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Arab cavalier from the French Orientalist school. C.1857, the artist was  probably English, the date is written April 30th 1857 in pencil.

This water colour was in the Office of the Headmaster of Ridley College John O. Miller (1889-1921) for many years.

Aujourd’hui

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Well today is the day, bright and Sunny Spring day here in Charlottetown.

For lunch we had Lobster sandwiches, pretty good stuff. Tonight is the party, special cake made by my pastry chef neighbour, food made by our friend Pico who lives a few a few doors from us who is an amazing cook from Senegal. Beautiful fresh flowers, because  it is Spring, they are Tulips. Will also made two patés, one Salmon and one chicken livers with currants, quite good and lots of bubbly for my friends to drink.

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1962 going to school first day. My Mom took that photo. 

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Flying to Rome some 52 years later, notice the hair cut is pretty much the same.

No that is not water I am drinking.

What an amazing life I have had, quite thankful on this Birthday for my good fortune.

Also thankful for Will and the 39 years we have had so far together.

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1989 – 2009

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Some 20 years separate these two photos.

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My Official passport photo of 1989 when I was posted to the Canadian Embassy in Cairo, Egypt with responsibilities for the Sudan. Back then only one photographer in Ottawa could take such pictures for the Foreign Ministry and his studio was on Sparks Street behind the Langevin Block which is the Office of the Privy Council for Canada and the Prime Minister’s Office. You had to make an appointment and you had to wear a suit and tie because that photo would go into your Diplomatic passport with mention on page 5 of the document stating your rank and function at the Embassy. Egypt then was a great posting, it was also the time of the First Gulf War when Kuwait was invaded by Iraq and Canadian war ships sailed down the Suez Canal, we went to the Canal to see them pass by.

I also travelled often to Khartoum and we had special permission to board the Lufthansa flight which made a pit stop in Cairo to travel to Khartoum 2 hours South following the Nile River in a straight line. We did not want to take Air Sudan it was too dangerous, planes poorly serviced and mostly unable to fly on any given day. Egypt Air was not safe enough because of tensions between Egypt and the Sudan. Lufthansa had a great flight and so did British Airways back then. I also often carried with me 10 to 12 bags of Diplomatic mail and documents all sealed up. It was all pretty romantic to be a diplomatic courier and also representing Canada in the Sudan. To me that country was about General Gordon and his heroic death in Khartoum. In Saint-Paul Cathedral in London there is a memorial to Gordon of Khartoum next to 19th Century painter Frederick Lord Leighton. I say a memorial because when the expeditionary force arrived in Khartoum to relieve Gordon and his men, everyone had been killed and his body was never found. When I went to the Sudan a new ”Islamic” government was in charge, same people as today. The funny thing was that we had to pay for every curfew pass and special permission pass to travel in the City with bottles if not cases of Johnny Walker Red Label, I discovered that Scotch is an international currency and the favourite drink of staunch Muslims. So we use to call it Johnny Mohamed Walker.

In early 1991 I found myself again in Khartoum and it was at this point that the First Gulf War ended with the defeat of Iraq and the setting on fire of all the oil wells in Kuwait by the retreating Iraqi army. As I arrived at the Hilton Hotel I heard a commotion behind me and turn to find myself face to face with Tareq Aziz (1936-2015) the deputy Prime Minister of Iraq, the cultured face of the Iraqi Regime. I had a very uneasy feeling when I saw him surrounded by his goons. He was well dressed and spoke impeccable French and English. The clerk at the Front Desk explained that Mr Aziz would have his room on the third floor and I was bumped to the seventh floor. The war had just ended the Sudan was an ally of Iraq and Canada was part of the coalition which defeated Iraq. We simply exchange polite greetings, there was nothing else to say and I had absolutely nothing to say to him.

What puzzled me was how he got to Khartoum from Baghdad, there was a no fly zone, it took me some time to figure out that he would have travelled by road from Baghdad to Amman in Jordan which took about 10 hours. Then flew on a private jet from Amman to Cairo and then on to Khartoum. A few years later when I was posted to Amman, I would become more familiar with the Iraqi Regime and the politics of the region, a very complex affair to say the least.

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Rome 2009 at home on Via dei Villini

My last post, what was interesting about this posting was my accreditation to Greece, Malta and Albania. I went to Tirana some 26 times, it must be a record of some kind, no one else at the Embassy went so many times. I had regular business to attend and I wish could have gone to Athens more often. Albania was a very strange country, waking up after 45 years of brutal dictatorship under a madman Enver Hoxha (1908-1985) who completely isolated this tiny country, it is only slightly bigger than Vermont, from the rest of the world and broke relations with every country including his Communist allies in the USSR and then China for not being communist enough. No one could travel outside and very few could ever enter Albania. Now in 2007, Communism had vanished with the death of  Hoxha and the nightmare was over which led to all manner of excess. A very poor country with no paved roads, a very poor electric grid and primitive social services. It was difficult to image that to the South was the border with Greece and just across the Adriatic was Italy.  During my time the country saw much progress, there was a large US presence, there was also much investments by Austria, Germany, Sweden.

 

Views, Nostalgia

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Here  are some views all mixed up.

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Point Prim Lighthouse, I often go to the point in the Summer, there is a great little restaurant open only in the Summer. It is a fairly isolated spot of PEI facing the mainland, Nova Scotia is just across. It is the first lighthouse ship will see when navigating to enter the bay and harbour of Charlottetown. Built in 1845  by Isaac Smith, I believe Sam Cunard had a hand in the financing of the construction cost.

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Home in Charlottetown

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Opening night at the Art Gallery where I volunteer.

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Our favorite Coffee shop Receiver on Richmond Street. That picture was taken a month ago.

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The salon of Government House where I also volunteer.

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One of my favourite photo of us in Rome at the top of the staircase next to the Capitoline Hill. In the background Sofia Loren’s penthouse.

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Two splendid views of central Rome

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A shirt designed by the master, our dear friend Dr. Spo of Phoenix

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In London, Sept 2016, dinner before the theatre

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With our friend Simonetta in Rome at a Christmas party at Palazzo Brancaccio, 2009

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Presenting a painting in the European wing at the National Gallery in Ottawa 2015

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Hodge podge

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As I count down for my birthday on Friday, I am looking at old photos of myself and places visited or lived in.

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1959 in the family living room when Television sets were actual furniture broadcasting only 4 channels.

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The twins of Argos, Kleobis and Biton in the Museum of Delphi in Greece, sculpted by Polymedes c. 500 B.C.  They are twice a human size, presented here as divinities. 

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The Sacred enclosure of Delphi where are the major temples are located. It sits above the gulf of Corinth. A spectacular site, quite deserted when we visited in late November of 2008

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Here I am enjoying a Greek beer in Delphi just minutes away from the village of Arachova  where we were staying. We were celebrating our Anniversary and friends suggested we visit the area.

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A view of part of the Gardens of the Villa Borghese in Rome in Spring 2009, always a pleasure to walk in at any time of the year.

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From the Rijks Museum in Amsterdam a beautiful nature morte painting, Flemish school. What I find truly fascinating is how the painter was able to reproduce all the elements, the citrus, the chinese bowl, the silver pitcher and gold goblet and intricate details. We visited in 2008.

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Café Metropol, Athens, in front of the Cathedral of Athens, a great place for a coffee and a light meal.

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In Rome with my new Borsalino which I purchased in Milan. I found out on a trip to Sicily that this is the type of hat the Capo of a Mafia clan would wear. This explains the puzzled looks I got in Agrigento from local men.

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The Giusti Palace and Garden (Italian: Palazzo e giardino Giusti) are located in the east of Verona, Italy, a short distance from Piazza Isolo and near the city centre. The palace was built in the sixteenth century. The garden were planted in 1580 and are considered one of the finest examples of an Italian garden in Europe, a splendid park of terraces climbing upon the hill.

Spring

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Well Spring will be with us very soon and though Winter on the Island this year has been mild compared to 2015, overall charts indicate that in general Winters on the Atlantic are not as cold and unpleasant as those I remember from Central Canada, (Ontario-Quebec)

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Kyoto Spring time

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Worrying times

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The Chinese curse is ”May you live in interesting times” well we are living in such times now. Turkey a NATO country has been acting with great belligerence towards Germany and The Netherlands over the refusal of both countries,  also NATO members, to allow Turkish politicians allied to President Erdogan to campaign on the up-coming referendum to give him near dictatorial powers on their national territory and speak to the ex-pat Turkish community living there. Germany has a large and well established Turkish population going back 130 years. This behaviour by President Erdogan of Turkey and his rapprochement with Putin is destabilizing NATO and is difficult to understand.

On the one hand Turkey has never had good relations with Russia in over 500 years. Continuous wars and conflict, Turkey joined NATO after the Second World War to counter Soviet influence in the Mediterranean since they control access from the Black Sea via the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles. Also in this diplomatic conflict with The Netherlands, Turkey risk loosing billions of Euros in trade and tourism. There is already damage but Erdogan does not seem to care, did Russia promise investments? Most probably and China is not far behind, clever Chinese silent but deadly.

Which brings me to a far more dangerous and deadly possible conflict, that involving North Korea and the USA. In the Nuclear age a doctrine was established that no country would ever be allowed to develop ballistic Nuclear weapons to be used against the USA and its allies, but more importantly against a direct attack against the continental USA, this includes Canada since the USA is directly responsible for our Nuclear defence in case of attack.

The Trump administration has made it clear this week that it is not interested in continuing negotiations with the North about its developing nuclear missile facilities. For many years the USA have negotiated with the North Korean leadership and provided a sweetener in the form of aid. China who is the nominal protector of the North Korean Regime since the truce* in the Korean War in 1952 has also used leverage with the Kim family, it is not working anymore and China is frustrated. North Korea has been developing ever more sophisticated nuclear weapons and now are about 3 years away from having Inter-Continental Ballistic missiles capable of reaching the Western Coast of the USA. This means that the US Government and the President must stop North Korea before it is too late, the afore mentioned doctrine dictates it. Such North Korean missiles could easily be fired and reach the USA in 20 minutes, not enough time to properly respond in kind and this is why a sophisticated computer program monitors 24/7 the world in case of such an attack, which could come from Russia or China but it highly unlikely for a host of reasons including leadership ones who understand all too well what it means in terms of survival for us all. The computer system detecting such an attack can automatically launch missiles in case the White House does not respond quickly enough.

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This week Secretary of State Rex Tyllerson was in South Korea and is then going to visit Japan and China. He has made it clear that the USA is considering a pre-emptive strike against North Korea if there is any further escalation or un-acceptable behaviour, what does that mean exactly is anyone’s guess. But the visit itself to China is to warn the Chinese President and leadership that President Trump is going to act differently from the past and a strike could come at any time, maybe even a nuclear one.

Trump is clearly after regime change in North Korea, the Kim family have for far too long teased the USA and made threats, testing missiles by launching them repeatedly to show they are capable of attack.

Rex Tyllerson is going to tell the Chinese that the time for discussion is over and if they do not act to change the leadership in North Korea, which they can easily do, given their enormous influence, the USA will strike. The big problem is that Nuclear weapons today are one thousand time more powerful than the one used in Hiroshima and then Nagasaki in August 1945. No one has seen the power of today’s weapons and it is truly terrifying. What would be the reaction of Russia in such a case, probably annoyance but not much more as long as their territory is not affected by the fall-out, though they border North Korea. What about China, major cities like DanDong across the Yalu river from North Korean, sharing 1000 Km border and they could suffer from the fall-out with all the horrors it entails. South Korea would certainly by affected given how close the Capital Seoul is to the North, only 22 minutes by air separate the two capitals or 121 miles.

Given that Mr Trump does not appreciate the power of Nuclear weapons nor the complicated balance between States and other great powers, such a pre-emptive strike could easily lead to a major catastrophe or doomsday for life on this planet. Most people do not want to believe this possible, but the unpredictability of Trump makes this quite possible.  At the same time Kim Jong Un is equally responsible for this state of affair and he is not without knowing that a direct nuclear threat to the USA invites automatically a terrible response.

 

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What Is Sustainable Seafood?

A verey good article and worth a read to inform yourself on this important matter.

Buying Seafood

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Have you noticed that a lot of the seafood sold in supermarkets or marketed online has all of a sudden become “sustainable?” Over the last decade it has become a major buzzword along with “gluten-free” and “organic.” How can this be?

If all this seafood is really sustainably caught or farmed then why are we all worried about the health of our wild fish stocks or fish farms?

I believe seafood sustainability is an important, and achievable goal, but all these labels springing up makes my B.S. detector go off. What I feel is happening is the marketing end of the seafood industry knows people are looking for this buzzword attached to their fish and shellfish, regardless of what is really happening. Plus, consider that most of the seafood we eat in the US is imported, and not inspected, how the hell can…

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Ides of March

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Today is the 15 March and in 44BC was the day Julius Cesar was stabbed to death at a meeting of the Senate of Rome in the Theatre of Pompey, today Largo di Torre Argentina a square in Rome, that hosts four Republican Roman temples, and the remains of Pompey’s Theatre. It is located in the ancient Campus Martius.

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The Ides refers to the mid month and every month has it. Contrary to popular belief, Cesar was not killed because he wanted to make himself dictator for life, but because he favoured the Army and the people over to the wealthy Senatorial class who controlled Rome. Cesar was proposing to change the order of things in Rome and that scared a lot of the 1% who could not stand his politics. His nephew Octavian will become the first Emperor under the name of Augustus after a long civil war against Mark Anthony and the 60 Senators who took part in the murder of his uncle.

Amazing that Julius Cesar has become immortal in our memories 2072 years after his death.

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The death of Cesar by French painter Jean Leon Gérôme, 1867. The seated figure in this painting to the right is Marcus Tullius Cicero who will briefly lead Rome after Cesar’s death. He will also tell of the assassination in great detail in his memoirs as an eye witness.