70th Anniversary

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H.M. Queen Elizabeth and H.R.H. Prince Philip are celebrating their 70th Wedding Anniversary. Here is the Official photo taken for the occasion.

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The couple married at London’s Westminster Abbey on Nov. 20, 1947, just two years after the end of World War Two, in a lavish ceremony attended by statesmen and royalty from around the world.

The portrait, taken earlier this month, showed the queen wearing the same dress which she chose for a service of thanksgiving to mark their diamond wedding anniversary held at the Abbey where they were married.

She is also wearing a “Scarab” brooch in yellow gold, carved ruby and diamond which Philip gave her in 1966.

Elizabeth has been married for far longer than any other royal, and the newly-released picture showed the couple framed by Thomas Gainsborough’s 1781 portraits of George III and Queen Charlotte, (Charlottetown PEI) who were married for 57 years – the second longest royal marriage.

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Wedding day 70 years ago

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Bright Sunny and Cold

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In the last few days the weather has returned to normal for the Season, finally. Though I do enjoy the nice warmer than usual weather, it was a bit worrisome because it is so out of the usual.

Sunday was another crisp sunny day and we went to the Craft Fair at the Homestead of Sir Andrew MacPhail. I always enjoy going to the homestead in Orwell, the house is lovely dating from 1830 surrounded by a large wooded area. Driving up to the house through a narrow unpaved road bordered by poplars and other trees I am reminded of Leo Tolstoy’s Estate Yasnaya Polyana.

The house is beautiful in a peaceful setting and you feel that Sir Andrew and his family still live here. His daughter Dorothy lived at the house until 1962. The food is always good prepared in the small kitchen of the house, we had tea and lunch at the house on separate visits.

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Sunday was a day to look at and buy some local crafts. In the long glassed-in veranda, the first vendors were a couple, Sabina and Michael Schonknecht formerly from Dresden in Saxony, they now live in Murray Harbour North and make jams, pickled fruits, breads and also sell chickens. They had for sale amongst other things, Dresdner Stollen which to me is one of the symbols of the Advent and Christmas Season.

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There was also many other things to look at from natural pine bows and books and beautiful wool blankets made by MacAusland Wollen Mills in Bloomfield. Will bought a small water colour by Mel Giddings of Murray Harbour. We also bought a home made Christmas pudding by Jim Culbert, who uses his grandmother’s recipe. It is a big pudding, we had a sample taste it was very good. So we do not have to worry now that item is out of the way for Christmas. This year, as we rotate menus each year, will be Roast Beef, other years it has been Rack of Lamb or Roast Goose.

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We had tea a biscuit and a cup of turkey vegetable soup made on the premises by the chef, it was very good, everything they serve comes from the farm of the homestead.

Our pudding maker Jim Culbert is also a furniture restored and upholsterer and he owns a B&B in Vernon Bridge, it is just off the main road and called Green Gay Bulls B&B not to be confused with Anne of Green Gables in Cavendish. Ken Gallant who is Jim’s partner told us a funny story of a Chinese family who arrived unannounced at their B&B one day wanting to visit the house. Jim and Ken were surprised and did not understand why they wanted to visit but were ever so eager to see it all. The house is very beautiful and full of wonderful furniture and accent pieces, all belonging to Jim’s family, the grounds around the house are also lovely. At the end of the visit their visitor thanked them and gave them some money for the visit. Jim and Ken still did not know what to make of it but suddenly one of the visitors made the reference to Anne and the penny dropped, they thought they were at the home of Anne Shirley. Jim did not have the heart to tell them otherwise, their english was a little faulty.

 

 

Social Season

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With the departure of the tourists we have the island back to ourselves and the fun begins. Many think that there is nothing to do here in PEI after the Summer Season and the last cruise ship leaves. This year thanks to climate change, the Summer was dry and warm and the month of October was unseasonably sunny and warm, we broke a lot of records with high temperatures up to 30C on some days when it should have been around 15C. No one is really complaining, warmer weather is always more pleasant.

The number of Food festivals, Art evenings, events of all kinds all around the Island will keep you busy during the Winter months until Spring and the return of the tourists. If California has the swallows of Capistrano we in PEI have the tourists of Crapaud.  So you have to plan your activities and time during these coming months so as not to be overwhelmed. This is not including the many invitations to parties and dinners from friends and neighbours. In the past 7 days we had 5 events to attend plus all the regular daily activities around the house and with our dogs. We are currently planning our After Christmas activities, we decided that this year we will have a party on 6 January or La Fête des Rois, this is a period after the rush and before February.

Last night we went to a Fashion Show fundraiser called Santa’s Angel, a Fundraiser providing some Xmas cheer to children who would otherwise do without. Fundraising at this time of the year is a big activity on PEI, many families are poor, so you will have food drives, last year the CBC-PEI the National broadcaster on the Island provided donated turkeys to a large number of families. Same goes for warm clothing and other supplies, reminding us that poverty is an issue in Canada despite all the social programs we have.

Here is a Blake Caissie creation presented during the Fashion show, Blake has a lot of talent and it was a really beautiful dress for the Season.

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Here are all the dresses for this Xmas Season Fashion Show, all created by people who had the imagination and time to come up with a design. All in good fun, very colourful.

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So to return to the topic of activities and other things to do, yes there is a lot. This Sunday there is a craft fair and Tea at the Homestead of Sir Andrew MacPhail who is one of the luminaries of PEI. His family home is beautiful and located in Orwell just 20 minutes from us. Hoping the weather will be pleasant for a drive out. I read recently his famous book The Master’s wife published after his death in 1938. MacPhail is seen with Lucy Maud Montgomery and Milton Acorn the People’s Poet, as a man of ideas and a writer documenting his life period.

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The weather last night was quite chilly and the wind fierce and cold, we were at the Convention Centre which looks out on the Hillsborough river and the opening to the Strait, it started to snow at one point, just swirling drifting snow. Looks like the mild weather is over. There were wind advisory and restrictions on the Sea bridge all day. The sea can be very impressive.

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This morning is 11 November and so the Remembrance ceremony took place as usual at the Cenotaph in front of Province House and the cannons were positioned in our backyard at the bottom of Great George Street, remember all this takes place within 3 city blocks so you can hear it all. The dogs were jumpy as they fired an 11 gun salute. The house shook and then the marching bands of the PEI Regiment on a bright sunny windy day at -1C.

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Mr Nicky went to the groomer this week and he looks really good with his big moustache à la Kaiser Bill.

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Here is Miss Eleonora or Nora for her friends just sitting by the door. Next week is her turn at the grooming salon.

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Finally Will found a recipe for 2 types of Apple Pie with a Four year Old Sharp Cheddar pie crust, it smells divine. I married him all those decades ago not for the family fortune but for his cooking skills which is an important asset for any French person like myself. La Cuisine toujours la Cuisine!

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Ups and downs, phases

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When I joined the Foreign Service years ago, we were briefed on many aspect of life in the Service. We were warned that our lives would be impacted by all manners of things which is unknown to ordinary people who have a 9 to 5 desk job. Then because our lives would be spent abroad mostly living in exotic corners of the world, more challenges would pile on. Living on Posting and working in an Embassy setting is not like going on a vacation for a few weeks, your life changes and you must be flexible and go with the flow.  We were told you cannot go home because someone in your family has died or because you are sick or will miss an important family event, you are on a posting so make other arrangements, the employer is not sympathetic. So if you accept to go on posting, you don’t have much of a choice since your employment depends on you being fit to live overseas, hardships will happen and it happens to all of us, it is easier for the veterans because we have done it all before. I am not sure that today’s young officers are all that well prepared psychologically, too many expectations that life abroad will be like life at home in Canada.

So at first there is the build up to going on posting abroad, you usually know a few months in advance where you will be going and you have to prepare, again it is not just packing a suitcase and getting a plane ticket, you are packing your life and your family’s for a completely different life in a foreign environment for several years, so you better like it because once you arrive at post, no one will want to hear you crying and saying you hate it. You will get no sympathy and you cannot go home, you simply have to make the best of it no matter how weird it is and yes, sometimes it is like the Twilight Zone. In my case of all the postings I did the unpleasant one was Beijing because of the hostile Cold War persistent atmosphere surrounding us thanks to the Chinese Communist Government.

As strange as this may sound, the most difficult posts for Canadians based on people who fail to complete their full posting assignments are Rome, Paris, London and Washington DC.  It is one thing to visit for a week or two and laugh and dine out and visit all the sights and also the name of those capitals leads you to believe it is going to be so easy. But that is not what actually happens and if you do not prepare psychologically you are in for a shock. Usually most people are far better prepared mentally for the difficult posts like Bogota, Lagos, Khartoum or Beijing, everyone assumes it is going to be difficult.

Living full time for two or more years with the natives on a different continent in some exotic locale, in a residential neighbourhood with no tourists in sight, speaking a foreign language full time, no, no one speaks English and learning to live in a different culture and getting use to food, culture and ways of doing things differently, is quite a challenge.

Never giving an opinion on anything in case you create offence and behaving yourself because you are a guest of the receiving country and not some tourist on a vacation this applies 24/7 so get use to it.

The Arrival at post

The first three months after your arrival or so at post you are happy, happy, everything is new and it is a lot of fun, this is the up up period, you are in full discovery mode. You have a new apartment or house provided by your employer who is also your landlord and security blanket and you have to settle in. If you have kids they are in a new school which will be very different from any school environment back home and often with loads of homework and activities. Your spouse will most likely have no job, can’t work, not allowed, expected to be by your side when officially required and mostly stay at home with little to do since you may in all likely hood have a maid, a cleaning lady, a gardener, a cook, etc, it comes with the job, you have little say in it, get use to it and be careful what you do or say around household help.

Hopefully you will not have been put in a staff quarters in a far suburb requiring an hour or more of driving in heavy traffic or on a gated compound where boredom settles in very quickly and you fall prey to the toxic foreign expatriate community.

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Warsaw, Poland

Phase two, after settling in period

The next three to four months will be a phase of settling into a routine and getting used to this routine both at work and at home and in general living at post. The discovery part is over now and you start to find out that things are not as rosy as you first imagined, little problems will start to surface, i.e. shopping hours are inconvenient, traffic is worse than back home, you cannot drive everywhere because of lack of parking or security situation does not permit it. You can never take public transport for security reasons. The little problems will quickly become mountains if you are not careful to take a pragmatic approach and be reasonable in what you expect.

The work schedule starts at 8 am and lunch is at 3pm and dinner is not before 9pm, not exactly a North American schedule. Your house is prone to infestations of rats, poisonous snakes, bugs of all sizes and kinds and very strange offensive smells, electric and water shortages when it is not cut off for several hours a day.  When shopping you have to get used to product brand unknown to you, sometimes made cheaply and more expensive, the fruit jam is from Bulgaria, the wines from Romania, some products are from Russia, Pakistan or India and other goods can only be obtained through a special diplomatic shopping service in Denmark which takes 3 months to be delivered. There may be unexplained shortages of some food products locally.  Or the local Government requires you to shop only in designated grocery stores for foreigners where everything is sold in cans and there is little fresh fruits or vegetables.

Your kids must come home after school and have no where to go, in most countries children stay at home with other relatives and do homework, this is unusual for your children and they start complaining about having to wear a school uniform and teachers who are more strict in an old fashion and conservative environment. This is especially difficult for teenagers. Your spouse is thoroughly bored and wants to go home or you may have month long visits by your mother-in-law, this happens on post when your spouse needs company since you are away at work for long days and sometimes weekends.

You have little in common with your work colleagues though you practically live and work with them and now know maybe a little too much about them, from marital to alcohol problems or worse but you still have to socialize with them nonetheless.

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Beijing, P.R.C.

The downward spiral

The next phase is the one were you are starting to feel isolated, lonely, the natives are not so nice after all and are getting on your nerves. In Rome per example, some colleagues hated everything from the Italian food to the antiquities to the Italians and having to speak Italian all the time. In London or Paris, though they speak English and French, you will be mocked for your funny accent, you may live in the far suburbs and will be too tired after work to enjoy the nicer things of European life. The culture is also very different not at all like you might have imagined. In Washington DC you will live in the wealthy suburbs in Virginia and you suddenly realize at a diner party that all your neighbours are millionaires and you are not. They may make disparaging remarks quite innocently and know next to nothing about your country and go on about either the President or American politics and you are sworn never to give an opinion about either, so you smile and bear it. In countries were the majority are Muslims you have to get used to the 5 time daily calls to prayers starting at dawn and the heavy presence of the police and army.  Often the only distractions are playing golf or bridge and attend endless rounds of cocktail parties where you always meet the same people. You are limited in where you can go and what you can do, either for security reasons or because of rules imposed by the local government, in Beijing we were forbidden from driving more than 50 miles outside Beijing. If you wanted to travel further it had to be cleared with the Foreign Ministry. Going to Tibet was absolutely out of the question unless you were accompanied by 2 minders who would make sure you only saw what the Communist party wanted you to see. You were constantly watched, followed and spied on. Same applied to foreign business people who knew to tow the official Party line if they wanted any kind of contracts.

In  Africa you have to become acquainted with the different ethnic conflicts between various groups in a particular country which sometimes can turn violent or the fact that you are the only white person around.

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Amman, Jordan

All these factors can have a cumulative effect on you and you feel overwhelmed and want to go home but you can’t, you still have at least one year or two to go before your posting ends. It can be far worse if you are in an isolated country on a continent prone to political violence and civil unrest. The last 5 months before we closed our Embassy in Damascus, was far from pleasant as everyone saw the civil war coming with daily bombing in the city and violent demonstrations. It was time to review evacuation plans either by road across the mountains to Lebanon meaning going through check-points manned by various militias to whom you have to pay bribes or leave before the road to the airport was cut off having to abandon personal belongings because there was no time to pack and ship. So you develop coping mechanisms to meet the challenges.

The end is at hand

The last phase of any posting is knowing you are going home in 6 months and now your spirit picks up because you are in departure mode and well things are really not that bad, you may feel nostalgic about the place you are about to leave. You may be going back to Headquarters or going on to another posting in a different part of the world, but it is a new adventure and the cycle starts all over again. If you think that coming home to Canada is simple, it’s not, it is often very difficult, you have to get use to life back home and you may find people have moved on, you have moved on also but you do not see it that way and it all seems strange. When we returned from Rome it took us almost 18 months to get use to living in Canada again.

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Cairo, Egypt

Epilogue

Life in the Foreign Service, living and working abroad in various continents and Capitals is not for everyone, despite the many challenges, some difficult, I think it was all a wonderful experience, a life so unlike anything you can imagine, the people, the languages I learned, the food and cuisine, the traditions and culture, ways of thinking all different from our North American worldview, the situations you will be part of that others will read about in the news, you gain a far greater understanding of the world and events. In many ways a dream job which gave me a very different and more balanced perspective a more positive one on our world.  I consider myself lucky in that sense.

1917 and All That

Yes one hundred years ago today in 1917, a disaster struck Russia and shaped our lives to this day.

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(In 1917 the Julian calendar, which is 13 days behind our Gregorian calendar, was used in Russia. In writing this post I have used the Old Style dates first with the New Style in brackets.)

Earlier this year the National Museum of American Jewish History mounted an exhibition entitled 1917: How One Year That Changed The World.  It highlighted three major events of that year that have echoed through the last century and continue to affect us today.  Within that year the United States entered the war that had torn Europe apart since 1914; the Balfour Declaration planted the seeds of a Jewish state in Palestine; and what had started in Petrograd (St Petersberg) in February reached it’s climax in the October Revolution.

Lenin-October A stamp to commemorate the October Revolution using Vladimir Serov’s painting of Lenin addressing the workers and soldiers on October 25 (November 7), 1917.  Interesting that…

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November 6, 1867

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On this day 150 years ago just a few months after the Dominion of Canada was proclaimed in Ottawa, Parliament opened and the House of Commons sat for the first time.

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The two Mace, one for the House of Commons and one for the Senate of Canada, symbol of the authority of the Crown as exercised through the elected Parliament. They are paraded every day at the opening of the Sessions in the House and in the Senate. Only the Sergeant at Arms can carry the Mace, followed by the Gentlemen Usher of the Black Rod and the Speaker.

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The original centre block of Parliament in 1867 which housed the House of Commons on the left of the photo and the Senate on the right, this building will be destroyed in 1916 by a fire started by a cigar butt left in the Reading Room.

So to mark this sesquicentennial today in the House of Commons several retired Prime Ministers were present, the Right Honourable Joe Clark (C), John Turner (L), Brian Mulroney (C) and Paul Martin (L).

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Also two retired Speakers were present John Bosley and Peter Milliken and some retired Senators all sitting in the gallery of the House of Commons.

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The Canadian House of Commons 

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Parliament today, much bigger than the original after its reconstruction in 1919.

 

Berlin

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I am re-reading a book by Giles MacDonogh on Berlin, a portrait of its history. I read this book some years ago in 1997 the year it was published. This 20 year old book on Berlin is somewhat dated now given the incredible transformation the city has undergone since then.  My first visit to Berlin goes back to 1998 at a time when the City government, the Senate and Federal government of Germany where planning a massive re-construction of the Eastern sector now vacated from Communist rule.

I saw the first changes and re-construction of old building some of which had been completely obliterated during the war 1939-1945. We went back many times since to Berlin and it is truly a beautiful city, very people friendly.

Berlin today is a world city of culture, politics, media and science. Its economy is based on high-tech firms and the service sector, encompassing a diverse range of creative industries, research facilities, media corporations and convention venues. Berlin serves as a continental hub for air and rail traffic and has a highly complex public transportation network. The metropolis is a popular tourist destination. Significant industries also include pharmaceuticals, biomedical engineering, clean tech, biotechnology, construction and electronics.

Modern Berlin is home to world renowned universities, orchestras, museums, entertainment venues and is host to many sporting events. Its urban setting has made it a sought-after location for international film productions. The city is well known for its festivals, diverse architecture, nightlife, contemporary arts and a high quality of life. Since the 2000s Berlin has seen the emergence of a cosmopolitan entrepreneurial scene.

The city is first mentioned in 1237 as Berl, not a German word but a name derived from the old Slavic Wend word meaning Marsh or Marsh land. Slavs inhabited the area of Brandenburg for many centuries. German speaking population also lived in the area of Spandau around 900 and used the german word Bärlein or little bear as a name for the congregations of small villages around islands on the Havel and Spree rivers which cross the modern Berlin today. So the association of the little black bear became the symbol of the City of Berlin.

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Berlin is dotted with lakes and forest and back then they were mostly fishing villages. The region was never part of the Roman Empire and did not benefit from Roman city planning schemes seen elsewhere in Western and Southern Europe. In the middle-ages no cathedral or great building existed, it was a backwater. The only significant buildings from the 13th century that can be seen today are the Nikolaikirche 1230 and the Marienkirche 1270 by Alexander Platz. The arrival in Berlin in 1415 of the Hohenzollern family will see the first construction of a Castle in 1443 on the Spree river and this will be the seat of the family until their fall from power in 1918. Enlarging many times their family palace as their power grew.

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The Hohenzollern were Counts from the Southern region of Swabia in Bavaria where the family still has two large palace-castles Hohenzollern and in Sigmaringen. At first they were rulers of Brandenburg, then elevated to the dignity of Princes of the Holy Roman Empire, then by 1701 Kings in Prussia and in 1871 Emperors of Germany. Not bad for a bunch of mercenaries who played their cards carefully ingratiating themselves with the Holy Roman Emperor in Nuremberg.

The book also speaks of the people of Berlin, the various ethnic groups and the economic and social development of the city. With the wars of religions raging across Europe with the Reformation movement, the rulers of Brandenburg invited all those feeling persecution to come and settle in Berlin, religious tolerance was the official policy of the State. First French Huguenots arrived by the hundreds from France but also from other parts of Western Europe where they were persecuted. Then Jews started to arrive from all over Europe and later by the 19th century from Russia fleeing the Tsarist Pogroms. Then the Turkish guest workers who form a large ethnic group in Germany today.

The goal of all this immigration was to make Berlin and the region of the Brandenburg and then the Prussian Kingdom an economic powerhouse, a centre of culture and the arts. The Hohenzollern followed a careful policy of mixing and integrating people.

MacDonogh weaves a very interesting picture of the city, rich in details on its politics, architecture, history and society.  He did a lot of research on the city with the help of his German friends who themselves have a close connection to the city. He ends the story of the city in 1989 with the fall of the wall. I wish he updated the book so many things have happened in the last 30 years.

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40 Lively Recipes to Celebrate Day of the Dead — Lola’s Cocina

This blog entry from Lola’s Cocina brought back many memories of my time living in Mexico in the late 1980’s, every Festival was so well thought out and  steeped in traditions.

 

Día de los Muertos is a colorful celebration of life and like most Mexican holidays it includes a festive spread of food and drinks. To celebrate, I’ve put together a collection of recipes from a few of my favorite bloggers — some are time-honored and traditional while others are contemporary interpretations of classic recipes. Needless […]

via 40 Lively Recipes to Celebrate Day of the Dead — Lola’s Cocina