Time passing

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In ten days it will be my 61 Birthday. Today at the store I was buying stuff for the party and they played this song, American Pie, The Day the Music Died. Just listening to this song no matter where I am brings back a flood of memories from those days not so long ago. I was 3 years old when Buddy Holly died in February 1959 in a plane crash in Iowa, I would only here of him many years later. The song was written years later but all the words and reference are of that period I grew up in.

It is by far the song I love the most. With my birthday now being close at hand, looking back I think how the world was so different then in the 1960’s. It was not a golden age of peace, no not at all, there was a lot of turmoil in the world, decolonization in Africa with the usual ensuing civil wars, the Palestinian organization Black September and other groups in Italy, Red Brigades and in Germany staged terror attacks, planes then where highjacked frequently, security in airports simply did not exist. The Vietnam war, with its American involvement as of 1961 taking up where the French had left off, there was steady economic growth until 1973 when the price of oil shot up overnight, the race for nuclear weapons, the Cold War and rivalries between the USSR and the USA, the World was split in two, East and West. But the prosperity and lots of jobs, a time when you could quit one job and the next day land another one.

Politicians where not better but the World was more naive, more gentile, you could believe in a better tomorrow, all was still possible, the 1970’s would start to change that perspective, the North South Dialogue was all the rage, the idea was to export factory jobs to the South, AKA Third World Countries to share the wealth, most manufacturing jobs went to Asia, Corporations could not believe their luck.  Our politicians told us we did not need those job because we would have value added jobs and leisure. No one knew what that meant but it sounded good. By 1979 it was clear the world was no longer such a nice post Second World War place. The 1980’s would shake up a lot of people, the financial crisis of 1982 would put an end to prosperity and the era of cut backs was inaugurated as I entered the job market. You would have to wait until the 1990’s to hear such demoralizing slogans as Do more with less, Be efficient, Be Cost effective, Cut the waste, Think outside the box, It’s cutting edge, Be a change agent, Change is good. All these slogans will be debunked one by one but after much human cost as inequalities grew with the result we see today. We do live now in an age of uncertainty and this will continue for many years to come.

So as I look back I am happy to be 61 and not 21 or 31, in the next 30 years the world will become a more difficult neighbourhood. It has been for me a great time, a great life and that 1971 song American Pie by Don McLean reminds me of it.

Restaurant recommendations

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I have on FB post from Italian sites run by Americans in the USA. The Italian site promotes property for sale, restaurants, cities to visit, cultural tips, etc. It also promotes news items from Condé Nast and CNN travel.

Having lived in Italy, I am less and less enamoured with such sites. One like Condé Nast, tend to recommend the same spots over and over again, Tuscany being one, Florence and Venice is another, there is also the constant refrain of pursuing authenticity.

What I find disappointing is that often what they recommend is neither authentic and is usually expensive or they go budget and it is so cheap that you wonder if it makes any sense to even go.

There are also a lot of expat Americans who have made a business of luring tourists into their business as tour guides or Italian cooking classes. They are popular because they speak english and what they propose is not challenging and made to make you believe that this is how it is done.

This week Condé Nast was proposing a restaurant as authentic in Rome near the Pantheon, first it is not near the Pantheon at all. This establishment has been there since 1930, it is very simple and non discript. Then Anthony Bourdain on his show on CNN went to this restaurant and he makes a point of not telling you the name of the place. Interviews a young woman while he eats with his fingers and speaks with his mouth full, because he is a celebrity. The young woman goes on about how ”la mamma” has been cooking since for ever, if the restaurant opened in 1930, ”la mamma” would be at least 100 years old now. Then a blogger who lives in Rome, wrote about the place and though will no recommend it because the wine is cheap and undrinkable, the owners Mario and Teresa will sometime pad the bill and the food has apparently been the same for many decades. So the concept of no menu, we serve the daily special is out the window, the special has not changed in 85 years.

The restaurant is called Settimio al Pellegrino on Via del Pellegrino 117,  it is a trattoria, meaning a cheap eats place. I get really annoyed with Bourdain who I consider a fraud who is trading on his past in NYC restaurants as a Chef apparently. He is certainly very clever at promoting himself but then so was Paris Hilton and that Kardashian women.

I can understand that a traveller who may have this one trip and who may want to make this into the trip of a life time, who only has a few days in Rome or Italy will do whatever they can to make it worthwhile. So Condé Nast or Bourdain come in and sell their wares, it may be what you want and it may not, buyer beware, but the whole authentic thing is a fraud.

Condé Nast like many travel sites hires writers to produce articles about a place, this does not mean that the writer has been to the place they write about. Last year per example Air Canada had a list of the best restaurants in Canada. Most of them were in Vancouver, Toronto, there were 2 in Montreal. Considering the vast distances between those cities, I was wondering if the writer had travelled to any of them.  I looked up who had written the article, it was a young Asian woman who lived in Los Angeles. I sent her an email telling her that I really found her choice of best restaurants very odd. Ottawa has good restaurants, none mentioned, Quebec City, no, how about in the Maritimes, none mentioned. She replied that she in fact had picked her choices from another magazine and travel guides and simply re-wrote a newish article, she had never been to Canada. Well she was honest. I have to say that I usually find airline recommendation of hotels or restaurant very strange. The segment they wish to appeal to is usually the traveller on large expense accounts who can drop $400 dollars a night or more and pick $200 bottle of wines on the menu.

It all comes down, in the case of Italy, Rome or any other cities, if you really want authentic, well I am not sure what that means anymore. However there are plenty of good restaurants with typically Roman style cuisine and reasonable and good wines on offer all over the city. First stay away from the restaurants on a famous Piazza like Piazza Navona or around the Colosseum. Don’t go to pizza joints, remember in Italy pizzas are like fast food, in neighbourhoods they are sold in small pieces to simply eat quickly for a couple of Euros. Go to restaurants frequented by Italian families and avoid places with tourist menus or kids menus, that is so not Italian.

The same with coffee shops, Condé Nast and others have been pushing Caffè San Eustachio , on Piazza San Eustachio. It has been there since 1938 and his famous for its roasted coffee beans which are still roasted on a wood fire. Though I wonder given the popularity of the place and the hordes who descend on it everyday if this method is still followed. They only have 6 tables and an espresso is meant to be drunk standing up at the counter in 3 sips. Since 1999 the Ricci brothers who now own the place use Fair Trade Coffee and will charge more for an espresso than other coffee shops. I never liked that place because there are far too many people at any time. Rome has thousands of coffee shops and you can find in any neighbourhood a good one devoid of tourists. The one I liked was in our old neighbourhood, on Via Alessandria near the corner with Corso Trieste, a real neighbourhood caffé.

There are lots of other place, it just requires a bit of flair.

 

 

 

Falling between the cracks

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This weekend I was reading an article in the New York Times about a nurse practitioner in West Virginia in a county which has the lowest life expectancy rate in the USA.   The nurse practitioner works in NorthFork in McDowell County, West Virginia.

The article stated that the poor, the sick living in McDowell County voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump. This county is in the heart of Coal Mining country, devastated by a fast changing economy. Unemployment is high and the county has a very large proportion of poor people, people who cannot afford a Plan B, or private insurance coverage. It is the fear that as many as 24 million Americans will loose their health coverage in the USA if the GOP rolls back ACA also known as Obamacare. The people of that one county in West Virginia would be severely impacted by changes to the ACA or its roll back and the implementation of a Republican Health care bill.

It was a very difficult article to read, it is difficult to understand how Republican politicians elected by the people can believe in the idea that a free market health care system run by insurance companies is better than one where more and more people are covered without risking a personal bankruptcy.

If the Republicans are successful their system, as far as I can understand it, would basically force people to choose between death or bankruptcy. In the story the nurse practitioner spoke of her brother who 30 years ago at the age of 25 fell ill, he did not have health insurance and could not afford it. He was turned away because of his inability to pay and died from a disease which should have been easily treated if only he had the financial means. In this story this nurse practitioner goes through a normal day at the clinic, she sees people, all are poor and many are not well educated, they do not understand the system or have a wrong perception. Many suffer from diabetes, heart disease, are over weight, smoke, their medication now covered is expensive. It was sad to think that all those Americans without affordable health care would simply die. Dental coverage is another issue, many cannot afford the dentist, so they are exposed to a host of other diseases because of poor oral hygiene. One man who voted for Trump is an unemployed 54 year old, former coal miner. He explained that he wants to work and Trump’s promise to re-open the coal mines, this is what he was looking for, he reasoned that with a job he would have benefits and health care, so he voted for Trump. I have the sinking feeling that he will find out the hard way that Trump was nothing more than a snake oil salesman.

Many of the same poor people blame Obama for their Health care, not understanding that without ACA they would be worse off, but since they are also poorly educated they can be easily deceived by their Republican Congressman Evan Jenkins (R) and Senators Machin (D) and Capito (R) in West Virginia.

Living in Canada I cannot imagine any politician at any level talking of opening up our Canadian Health Care System which is a Provincial jurisdiction to free market insurance schemes, it would be suicide. I am also grateful to have been born in an era when our system was being implemented. Now retired I do not have to worry, I am fully covered and so is my spouse. I do have supplemental insurance but the monthly premium is so small as not to be a concern.

The article also mentioned that Medicaid and Medicare where in peril, seniors may find their benefits greatly reduced, mental health is not covered. At the end of this article I thought the Republican Congress is preparing a recipe for a terrible disaster.

A country cannot function if inequalities are stark, it only increases social tension to the cracking point.

Speaking of the cracking point, this afternoon on  CBC radio, I was listening to Ideas in the Afternoon with host Paul Kennedy. His guest was Wolfgang Streeck talking about Capitalism today. Here is the synopsis of this podcast.

The signs are troubling: the ever-widening chasm between the ultra-rich and everyone else. Mass protests. Political upheaval and social division. It looks as though the rocky marriage between capitalism and democracy is doomed, at least according to Wolfgang Streeck, who directs the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies in Cologne, Germany, where he is also a professor of sociology. In conversation with Paul Kennedy about his book How Will Capitalism End?, he makes the unnerving case that capitalism is now at a point where it cannot survive itself.

According to Streeck, capitalist societies are entering an interregnum — a pause or suspension of normal governance — as the system of capitalism collapses in on itself. In the absence of countervailing forces to keep it afloat, capitalism has essentially devoured itself. One consequence is a loss of state solidarity citizens in western countries have become used to. Streeck points to Italy, Greece and Spain, countries where young people can’t get find jobs; where fewer people can live on their own; and where marriage and birth rates are declining. People everywhere are now trying to protect what little they have left.

Wolfgang Streeck sees day-to-day life in the interregnum in stark terms: coping, hoping, doping, and shopping. He says that when it comes to the harsh realities of the interregnum, those who cope well will wear their stress as a kind of badge of honour. Those who cope poorly will mask their inability with drugs and mindless consumerism. We are having an opioid crisis in Canada and the USA right now. Here the Federal and Provincial governments have intervene, in the USA it is largely ignored.

Streeck then went on to speak about: “Democracy was always a problem in a capitalist society. There’s an enormous inherent tension between the two. Democracy is inherently egalitarian because every citizen has one vote. And the rich also have one vote but the rich are only five percent. Whereas in the market, every dollar has a vote. And the capitalist economy in particular functions according to — I think it’s [the Gospel of] Matthew — where it says he who has will be given [more]. And he who has [little] will have even what he has taken away…

And where you have capitalism and democracy at the same time, you have a contest between these two principles of distribution: egalitarian versus inegalitarian. This is why democratic politics have always tried to intervene in the markets and tried to contain the “Matthew effect”. You can also call it cumulative advantage if you want a more elevated term. So, where you have democracy in the form of trade unions, centre left political parties, sometimes centre right political parties, Catholic parties, and so on — they look at the market and what comes out of the market and then they become concerned both about their capacity to get re-elected and about principles of justice which, in a democracy, are principles of social justice, not market justice.”

This podcast on the CBC which last 53 minutes got me thinking of all those poor people in West Virginia who voted for Trump thinking they would be so much better off. I also think of people here in Canada who believe we in Canada would be better off with someone like Trump. They are usually members of the right wing neo-cons movement, business people etc, blue collar. Luckily they are a minority around 25% of the electorate. But in Canada we have to be careful, a fragile balance exist and desperate politicians will propose just about anything if they sense there is a vote in it.

Each decade is different, the 70’s were different from the 1960’s, today is vastly different from the era before 2000. It just feels sometimes as if the world is spinning out of control.

 

 

 

 

 

one hundred years ago and not …

In March 1917, one hundred years ago this month Tsar Nicholas II of Russia was forced to abdicate by his uncles and army officers. An ominous sign for him, no Russian Tsar ever abdicated and lived. His brother Michael was proclaimed Tsar but he refused the throne.

A civilian government took over, arrested Nicholas and his family, they were all shot on 17 July 1918 in the cellar of the old Epatiev House in Ekaterinburg.

In 1998 the Russian Government under President Yelstin gave them a grand National Funeral with full honours, the Russian Orthodox Church made them all martyrs and Saints, the government declared the Tsar and his family victims of Bolchevich violence.

So will President Putin and the Russian government celebrate the 1917 revolution, Lenin and the proletariat? Not likely, in fact the official line of the government is pro-restoration of the Romanov Dynasty and this goes hand in hand with a restoration of the Russian image of itself as a great power. The Russian Orthodox Church has reasserted its power and Putin has returned church buildings and assets to the Orthodox Patriarch who is turn promotes Putin and his policies. The Romanov in exile sense that they could benefit from this anniversary and Putin has bestowed honours and recognition upon them. The truth is that the Romanov dynasty is closely associated with the history of modern Russia and the abysmal record of Lenin and Stalin is a stain on the National history compared to the achievements of the Romanov.

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Peter the great who gave Russia its Flag and created the Russian Navy

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Catherine the great who created the Hermitage Museum, founded many new cities in Russia and brought the age of Enlightenment.

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Alexander I who defeated Napoleon and saved Russia

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Nicholas II the last Tsar

 

Les petites cérémonies

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We all have our little routines every day and develop new ones when life changes. Per example after I retired some years ago, I no longer had a need for business suits except for one nice dark Italian suit and a couple of blazers in case I need them for a special day.

Usually now it is casual wear and here on the Island it is more like vacation comfortable wear, though we have done formal and business suit on a few occasions.

I may or may not shave on a day because I have no were to go and am not meeting anyone that day. On the other hand dishes and laundry gets done promptly now that we no longer have a cleaning lady.

Meals are planned that morning for the day and I keep tabs on what we have in the freezer and the fridge. We also see friends on a more impromptu manner, not much is planned unless it is a special occasion.

Every night we have cocktails at 5:30pm after the dogs have had their dinner. We have a 3 course dinner around 07:30pm unless we are going out to a concert or event. We always use dishes and the table is set with cutlery and place mats. We have dinner in the dining room, a bottle of wine paired for the meal and tapered candles are lit on the table, there is also music softly playing in the background. It is the same routine every night.

When we have guests for dinner or lunch, we will have drinks first, we will set a menu and we will never serve the same menu to guests twice, if we had a chicken dish once, the next time they come we will serve something different. Depending on the season the menu will vary greatly, we never serve a salad as a main dish and I find it very gauche to do so. A salad is just an intermediate course served with a prepared dressing not something from a bottle.

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When we have a party, there is one coming up in 10 days, we think ahead of what we will serve, are people coming for a meal, or just drinks and nibbles which means serving good quality nuts and olives, a paté or a hard cheese with selected crackers. In this case we thought of doing a salmon mousse or a chicken liver paté with wine. We will chose a wine something which will go well with the event and if people bring a bottle of wine, I prefer to set it aside and go with what I selected for that night in white and red. Recently we had a pizza party and I asked my guests what they wanted, some preferred vegetarian other with meat or cheese or gluten free. Then I ordered from a pizza place here in town which makes really good pizza on thin crust, it tasted a lot better than the stuff from a commercial chain. We had a great party.

All these little details make for routines which define our lives and make everything more pleasant on any given day.

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Attitudes

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One of the most difficult thing to do in this world is changing people attitudes towards a situation, a person, a social construct, etc… People have opinions and attitudes about our world and the society we live in and changing attitudes can prove fruitless. In North America and the Western World change has been fast and furious in the last 50 years, in some cases too fast for some and bewildering in its implementation.

This week was International Women’s Day and with it we got the usual effusive news report on women’s progress, in Canada women have been able to vote in Federal Elections for one hundred years, so in Parliament 338 young women were invited from every community to come and speak on equality sitting in the Chamber for a 3 day conference. Our Prime Minister Justin Trudeau likes to style himself a feminist and he has gone out of his way to show what he can do to promote feminist causes, he is the first Prime Minister to have a parity of Ministers in his Cabinet and now he has announced in light of the Trump defunding of so many social programs internationally a 650$ million dollar program for Women’s health and reproductive rights in developing countries.

His spouse Sophie Grégoire Trudeau put out a press release promoting the idea that on this day we should also look at men who support and help women in their social advancement. It did not take long for many feminist on the more extreme fringe to denounce her and say that we did not need her ideas. Some went so far as to call it a day when you can ostracize men and the media loves reporting the more extreme point of view. Truth is at the Street level around me, saw no mention of the day. Yes there have been many advancement on pay equity and in many other domains in our society. Our Parliament has 46% women siting in the House of Commons. The abortion question was resolved in 1988 and many laws have changed to ensure equality amongst men and women. Nothing is perfect but bit by bit things are changing for some not fast enough, but again attitudes have not changed all that much in general despite legal changes in our Constitution and Laws. Badgering people or shaming them on social media will not bring a new attitude on the role of women in our society.

I maintain that in order to advance any idea in Society you need to include everyone and especially men in this case, it is a continuous process of education throughout society, not confrontation. Sophie Grégoire Trudeau simply said that with her children she promotes in their rearing the notion of equality, so that they have positive attitudes towards everyone and not harbour old stereotypes. Her message is positive and inclusive because this is where it all starts in the education of children.

Maclean’s carried two opinion style articles from two writers, one was Anne Kingston, who sounded more bitter and more dismissive than usual, Kingston basically claimed that Sophie Grégoire Trudeau was an elitist (yes that word again) she was out of touch and the photo of her and her husband Justin was sickening, just another political wife. As for all the other women who might agree with Sophie well they too are dismissed as traitor to their gender. These feminist writers claim that they do not need their husbands and would not be seen in a photo with their husbands holding hands,it is all too demeaning. This type of extreme point of view does nothing to help advance equality in our society and simply shuts down the dialogue. Unfortunately the media loves the extremist it is good entertainment. Let’s hope that parents will teach their children the value of the human person of either gender and the principles of equality.

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Mercredi des Cendres

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Ash Wednesday derives its name from the practice of blessing ashes made from palm branches blessed on the previous year’s Palm Sunday, and placing them on the heads of participants to the accompaniment of the words “Repent, and believe in the Gospel” or “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”. Something that is difficult to accept in our hedonistic society where pleasure is emphasize over everything else.

So Lent started today and will last until Easter Sunday. I do not know who observes Lent nowadays or if anyone, maybe a few remember it.

As children many years ago this Christian tradition was very much alive and was accompanied by many moral teachings on life.

Lent of course is a period of fasting, sort of a Christian ramadan so to speak, it use to be fairly strict with many things you could not eat, certainly no sweets and no meat. Stores did not advertise Easter candies before the last week of Lent and even then it was a more discreet advertising campaign so as not to offend people. Today in our secular society its a no holds bar type of thing and God forbid the little precious ones should be deprived of their sweets and everything else. I think something is lost here in a way, balance, reflection, abstinence in a society of plenty. Certainly life is poorer because of the commercialisation of everything around us.

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The end of Carnaval by Carl Spitzberg, Aschermittwoch, Ash Wednesday.

 

The shining City on the hill

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By virtually every measure, Canada has surpassed the United States as the shining city on the hill, where everyone is safe to reach their potential.

It is often noted that in the early 20th century, Canadian prime minister Sir Wilfred Laurier declared, “Canada shall be the star towards which all men who love progress and freedom shall come.”

The American Dream promised equality, a level playing field where everyone could pull themselves up by their bootstraps, but that too is more a Canadian thing. Canada’s “Gini coefficient”, a measurement of economic inequality, is significantly better than America’s and has been for 80 years now. In Canada, you are twice as likely to move from the poorest quintile of the population to the wealthiest.

Compared to Canada, America isn’t even the “land of the free”, anymore. The Cato Institute’s Human Freedom Index considers Canadians to be the sixth freest people in the world, while Americans limp in at 23rd, behind Poland. The conservative Heritage Foundation, based in Washington, ranks Canada 7th and the U.S. 17th  respectively for economic freedom. Free speech? Reporters Without Borders scores Canada 18th for press freedom; in spite of its much vaunted First Amendment, America only manages 41st.

Whether it was due to geography or history or maybe even policy, we have arrived. Everything America once aspired to be, we now are. Not only have we achieved the fabled American Dream, we are arguably among the safest, healthiest, happiest human beings to have ever existed.

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1867-2017