With November another Anniversary for us. It has been 43 years since we met and have been together all these decades. A whirlwind as the photos attest. Of course there are more photos but this would be a movie and I do not want to bore you dear readers. This year we will have a quiet celebration at home with a glass of bubbly. Probably for our 45th in 2022 we will have to do a big party, like hire Frank Sinatra to sing with Benny Goodman’s orchestra, I hope they’re available.
This Sunday 25 October Europe is setting their clocks back one hour and next Sunday 1 November, All Souls Day, we in Canada will set our clocks back, this means that Winter is around the corner. Today the weather climbed to 5C. which is not warm and the wind is cold, the air smells of snow. Just 48 hours ago it was still 12C and pleasant. The smell of snow in the air, you know that level of humidity with the salty sea air, the leaves on the trees are turning colour, a sure sign that colder weather is on the way.
The Sun is setting at the moment and the horizon is turning violet colour, a lovely shade, probably caused by the cloud bans and the reflection of the setting rays, it’s a half moon tonight.
Many wish to do away with the time change, I see their point this one hour fall back on the clock means it will be dark by 5pm and at the Winter Solstice it is around 4:30pm which is really early. But since I have lived with this all my life, I really don’t mind the time change. To me it means a new Season, Holidays and changing wardrobe, flannel sheets, etc. This is one thing about living in Canada, you need at least 2 if not 3 completely different wardrobes for the different seasons.
I think we got use to the idea of not travelling, a return to the time prior to the 1970’s when few people travelled internationally, when mass tourism did not exist. Going to the USA by car no less was common but for a lot of Canadians it meant the New England States. The wealthier people went to Florida and for a taste of the exotic Key West, you know all those artists living there. But I think that given the way things are going we are in this for at least another 12 months if not 24 or until October 2022. I am also not holding my breath for a vaccine, I think this is not going to happen any time soon.
What I want to do now is keep comfortable and cosy, surround myself with the familiar and shut out the world, there is too many disagreeable things going on in Canada and elsewhere. We have the puppies to look after and God knows they are demanding little monsters and they talk back. We use to say they did not like children, but nooooo Ms Nora and Mr Nick talk back quite a bit and are insisting. Oh well, if that is all we have to complain about, we re doing ok.
This photo of the old puppies was taken a few days ago, Nick got a nice grooming since and does not look so disheveled.
Well this weekend we celebrate Thanksgiving, despite the Pandemic and numbers of sick people surging in Ontario, Quebec and Alberta and a new and developing situation in New Brunswick, we can be thankful in Canada for so many good things we enjoy. First and foremost everyone has access for FREE to Healthcare, Covid 19 tests are Free and easily accessible. You need healthcare it is available and you have no worries about it. Even the Seasonal Flu Shot are FREE. When you have your health, you got it all.
Here in PEI we have no COVID and anyone who has been sick total 61 have stayed at home and have received help and follow-up from Health PEI. No deaths and no hospitalizations.
We live in a peaceful and stable country, the Government of Canada has numerous programs for help and support financially anyone who needs help during the Pandemic. This is more than we can say if looking at other countries where people are left to fend for themselves.
We live in a nice house, we have friends and a good social life. We have our two puppies who are demanding but we love them, hey their Dachshunds, what do you expect.
So we have a lot to be thankful for and appreciative of our blessings in this life.
Happy Thanksgiving! Bonne Action de Grâce!
My friend Yi who now lives in the USA has started a very interesting blog on his life in China. If you wish to learn more about how that country functions and what are the issues as seen my a citizen, have a read. I have known Yi since 2005 and he is a very nice and smart fellow.
In a previous post, I mentioned Hukou (Wikipedia). In China, they say it is to maintain “social order”, but it is mainly a way to control the populations in big cities. Each family has a “Household Register”. There’s one page for each individuals of the household. The information includes name, birth date, gender, ethnic group, […]
On the afternoon of July 12, 2015 around 4pm as we were about to leave the house to go to a dinner BBQ at friends, the phone rang, a strange call, my sister was on the phone calling from NY City where she lives, she was in a panic and blurted out that our father was either dead or dying in Montreal. A few minutes prior to calling me she had received a call from the Hôtel Dieu Hospital telling her that our father was in a critical condition. He had gone out that afternoon to shop for some summer shoes at Holt Renfrew on Sherbrooke street, this was his favourite store. He was scheduled to go to Vermont to be with my sister and my brother-in-law for their Summer vacation. I was confused by the call and in the rush of her telling me what was happening I kept thinking how can you be dead or dying. Our Dad had not been in the best of health for several years, he had heart problems and COPD, his lungs were no longer functioning properly and every week he had to go to the hospital for treatment. But he refused to talk much about his health and did not elaborate much about it when we asked him. He was ok not to worry, had a team of good doctors he liked.
However that July 12 was a very hot and muggy day and when you have lung problems it is not the time to go out in the city. The muggy air of the streets did not help and arriving at the store inside was super cold with A/C. From what we were able to gather later, he felt un-well and collapsed, an ambulance was called and the first responders tried to revive him for over 30 minutes to no avail.
I remember my sister calling me a second time a few minutes after the initial call, I was rushing to get things organized to go to Montreal which is only 2 hours away by car from Ottawa. In the second call she had the hospital doctors on the line and I was told that despite best efforts, Dad had a very weak heartbeat and his lungs were not functioning. He was not going to recover, the doctors wanted to know what we wanted done. Should they continue to try to revive him despite no oxygen going to his brain, the doctor added that 45 minutes had now elapsed with this condition. At that moment I simply remembered what both he and Mom years before I told us repeatedly about no extra measures to revive in such a case. So it was decided to let him go. There was no anguish about making that decision, there was no hope, it was simply the cold reality of what had happened and knowing how Dad was a proud man, neither me or my sister could imagine not respecting his wishes and putting him on a respirator and other modern medical machines, that was not what he would have wished. Our parents also believed that when your time has come you simply accept it, it’s that simple.
I did get in the car shortly thereafter and drove like a maniac on the highway down to Montreal. I was hoping in a strange way that he would still be alive, but I knew that it was not going to be that way.
I arrived in Montreal around 7pm and was greeted by a nurse who told me right away that he had died. Yes I know I said to her. She then asked me if I would sign the forms for his release from the hospital to the care of the Medical Faculty of McGill University. It was just a simple formality, Dad had made all the arrangements with his team of doctors, all from McGill and the Royal Vic Hospital. I knew that, he had told me and I thought how organized he was. I was then shown to his room where he lay. My cousin who had always been close to my parents, was there waiting for me. Neither of us knew what to say. He looked as he always did when I observed him sleeping in his chair in the living room in the afternoon but this time it was different.
My sister was on her way to Montreal driving as quickly as possible she arrived around midnight exhausted. My brother arrived 2 days later coming from Florida and having difficulty arranging flights on extremely short notice.
After the hospital I went to his apartment in Westmount, it is only then that it hit me, seeing all his things arranged methodically, everything in order, that he would not be coming back to his home. I sat on the sofa and looked at his chair, I could feel his presence, all was quiet, peaceful.
Our mother had died two years previously in her sleep and he had predicted that he would be gone in two years. When he told me this, I scoffed, come on Dad don’t say things like that.
Today my sister is in Vermont on vacation at the cottage as she would have been back then had he not died. I spoke to her and she told me that she had been thinking of him all week. I too had been thinking of the approaching date. He would have been 90 years old this year.
At lunch with Dad at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal.
Well it is time for another instalment about books I am reading. The latest is the new Biography written by fellow Montrealer Rosemary Sullivan, winner of several prestigious literary awards, on the life of Svetlana Iosifovna Stalina (1926-2011) know later in life by the family name of her late mother, Alliluyeva and when she became an American citizen as Lana Peters. The book is entitled Stalin’s Daughter.
She had brothers, one, Yakov Dzhugashvili (1907-1943) died at Sachsenhausen during the Second World War in a POW camp for famous prisoners. He was the first born son of Stalin and his first wife. Yakov spoke more Georgian than Russian and it is said that Stalin did not like him much. Her other brother was Vasili Stalin (1921-1962) Lieutenant General in the Soviet Air Force, a drunk who died of acute alcoholism. She also had another brother by adoption Artyom Fyodorovich Sergeyev ( 1921-2008) the adopted son of Joseph Stalin. He became a major general in the Soviet military. Sergeyev’s biological father, Fyodor Sergeyev, a close friend of Stalin, died in a train crash in 1921.
Svetlana had a strange and sad life, she was known in Soviet Elite Circles as the Princess of the Kremlin. When her mother Nadezhda Sergeevna Alliluyeva committed suicide by gunshot at the age of 31 after a party in the Kremlin in 1932, Svetlana was a child of 6 yrs old. Her world went from a carefree childhood to one of harrowing unexplained events punctuated by the disappearance of uncles and aunts and other relatives. Svetlana was physically isolated within the Kremlin and saw her father only occasionally and being followed and guarded by the Secret Police. Because of her isolation she was unaware of the cruelty of her father’s regime. Only at the age of 11 she noticed that schoolmates also disappeared or heard of their parents being arrested by the Secret Police. Later at the age of 14 while learning English and having access to American and British magazine she discovered by accident an article claiming that her mother had shot herself and not died of acute appendicitis as claimed in Official Soviet version of her death. This caused her severe emotional distress. At the age of 16 she started to understand that those who had disappeared in her family had been shot on her father’s orders because he blamed them for his wife’s suicide instead of looking at his own sordid behaviour.
Stalin was cruel, vindictive, a misogynist and distrusted everyone, always seeing conspiracies against him, always testing people, one wrong word could be a death sentence. Svetlana became afraid and careful of what she said around her father when she saw him. He in turn could be nasty, as he had been with his late wife, full of put downs and negative criticism.
The book also gives us a description of how the elite who all lived together in the old Imperial Senate building of the Kremlin, lived on a daily basis. Children had governesses, tutors, private health care and the best of everything. Wives of party officials and the family members of Stalin had access to all manners of foreign luxury goods, even in times of famine everywhere in the Soviet Union, they had access to the best food and wines. Their lives where like that of the Bourgeoisie before the Revolution. There was also the Datcha’s ( luxury homes) outside Moscow and other old Tsarist Palaces in the Crimea on the Black Sea. Chauffeured limousine, private trains and planes. Still her life was restricted to Moscow and the surrounding countryside. She would not visit Leningrad (St-Petersburg) until adulthood after her father’s death.
A series of fresh crisis erupted with the death of her father in March 1953, the power struggle and the physical elimination of people like Lavrenti Beria who was the head of the Secret Service and managed the million of executions of so called enemies of the people. Svetlana finds herself in a difficult situation, the Central committee declares that as the daughter of the late Stalin, she is State Property and her life is managed by the new leadership. She withdraws from public view and in March 1956 with the widespread publication of Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev speech on Stalin’s crimes, she no longer dares go out in public, so afraid of the people’s loathing. She decides to change her name to her late’s mother family name, but this creates more problems for her. This is how kafkaesque the world of the Soviet Union was.
The book goes through her marriages both in the USSR and in the USA where she became an American citizen. Her famous defection in 1967 to the USA while in India to bury her husband Brajesh Singh. The publication of her first book Twenty letters to a Friend. Her 3 children, Joseph (1945-2008) Katya (1950) and Olga Peters (1971), two who are still alive live in Russia and in the USA. Olga does not speak Russian and was born in California.
Svetlana died in 2011 age 85 of cancer in Wisconsin, she also had a home in Portland. She never found peace nor did she ever get away from the ghost of her father or be reconcile with the death of her mother and became estranged from her children Josef and Katya, only Olga the American born daughter grew close to her. You feel sorry for Svetlana who like all children do not chose her parents and the accident of birth which haunted her life.
Svetlana Alliluyeva Stalina
So it has been 63 Christmases for me, in the last 42 years Will and I celebrated Christmas in many different countries and Capitals. Today at lunch with friends in our home here in Charlottetown, looking about the wonderful table and the good conversation I thought to myself how fortunate I am. Will prepared yet again an incredible meal, so much hard work and attention to details, everything was perfect. All our Christmas or celebrations have always a special something, it’s an event thanks to him.
But more to the point, what crossed my mind was the fact that we had one more beautiful Christmas ”en famille” and I am a lucky guy in many ways and appreciated today this special moment like so many others in our years together. Today was our third Christmas here in PEI and despite moment of wondering why we were here, we are now established and have a network of friends. Appreciate what you have and think that so many do not have as much. Appreciate your life partner and how that person enriches your life in so many ways and today is a day to reflect on this while the city is quiet.
Christmas at home in Charlottetown 2019.
Many decades ago I inherited a set of dishes which have been in my family (maternal side) for 80 years. This dinner ware was always used for family occasions like Christmas, Easter, special dinners etc. It belonged to the second wife of my maternal grandfather. My grandfather became a widower in the late 1930’s and had one son and five daughters. They all lived in a grand house on rue Filiatrault in Ville Saint-Laurent, all that remained of a fortune which disappeared in the 1930’s through mismanagement and the crash of 1929.
The story about this dinnerware and its provenance is interesting. My grandfather born in 1904 whose family had been considered very wealthy and he had attended private schools including the college Notre Dame on Queen Mary Road and had his own car in 1920 which was a luxury, in the imagination of the neighbours the family could not be considered less despite a reverse of fortune. His second wife also came from a former prominent family the LeCavalier who were social rivals in this small town, now a neighbourhood of Montreal.
When my grandfather remarried he was now working as a fireman and police officer he would become later head of the police for Ville Saint-Laurent. Having little money and for social reasons could not use what had belonged to his first wife, he had to make a show of what his new second wife brought with her, dowry and wedding gifts etc.
I remember many childhood Christmases in that house on rue Filiatrault and the trophy Moose head on the left side of the front door. It was a very nice place with formal rooms with columns and beautiful wood floors and a small study at the front were my grandfather read and met with his visitors, in later years it would become the TV room but he watched very few programs, there only was 2 French language channels then in black and white. He did watch the weekly television serials produced by Radio-Canada which are today classics of early television. But he listened to a lot of radio, news and other programming including everyday the agricultural news, though he was not living on a farm, many other relatives had farms including his own father who had a big tobacco farm just North of Montreal. Agriculture and land ownership in French Canada was a big status symbol.
So this dinner ware was cobbled together one piece at a time from powdered clothes detergent, I forget which brand but it seems it was Tide. The marketing ploy was to get women who had families and lots of clothes to wash to buy the big boxes of detergent and inside was a piece of dinner ware, you just collected them. This way his second wife, whom we always called Aunt and never grandmother because that would have been inappropriate to the memory of my maternal grandmother who had died in her early thirties of heart failure due to bearing far too many children.
The dishes were made in England by a Company called Empire, later bought by Staffordshire, the pattern is called York Maroon, not hand painted, it was mass produced. Of the original set of 12 dinner place settings only 8 survive to this day. Through the years many pieces were broken or chipped but considering its age it is amazing it survived at all. The pattern is discontinued but what is still available is worth about $15 for a dinner plate or luncheon plate as it is called, or $9. for a small bowl or $35 dollars for a sugar bowl or serving dish.
When my mother told me that she had this dinner service for me, initially I did not want it, I could not really remember it and wondered what would I do with it. We did have at the time 8 other dinner service. I am glad I have it now and it is a good souvenir of all those Christmas turkey luncheons with peas and mash potatoes, the turkey was always very good, the desserts and the Hershey Kiss chocolates a treat once a year, not allowed the rest of the year, Tante Fernande was the cook. Memories of my childhood and all my aunts and cousins on those times together and all the little traditions we had to observed, the singing of traditional Christmas songs and the Christmas Family benediction by my grandfather as the patriarch.
The last Christmas was 1968, my grandfather died in 1969 and after that the tradition simply fell apart. We still went to my father’s side of the Family for New Year’s but it was a different affair with none of the homey touches. In the 1970’s my family moved a lot and our Christmases tended to be in hotels with trees prepared by the hotel engineer and food from the hotel kitchen.
This year we will probably use Tante Fernande’s dinner service. We are having Bisque de Homard to start made from scratch, Tourtière which is a combination of veal, beef and pork and turkey with vegetables and of course Will’s Plum Pudding, the recipe by Nigel Slater flamed in Brandy. We had a taste test the other night with a small pudding he made, OMG is it ever good.
I hope you all enjoy your Holiday Season!
Two days ago I read in the Montreal Gazette that George Lau the owner of L’Orchidée de Chine was closing his restaurant after 34 years in operation. The restaurant is located at the corner of Peel street and De Maisonneuve in Montreal. This was a favourite of my parents who lived just one block North on Peel street. So many family reunions took place there over the years. George is aging and he and his sister Eva want to move on, his children have their own careers. George Lau came to open his restaurant after the celebrated and luxurious Ruby Foo’s restaurant closed on Decarie Blvd. He wanted to have a Chinese restaurant with class for fine dining with dishes well prepared in a traditional manner. L’Orchidée de Chine was also the place where we had my father’s wake, all his favourite dishes and champagne, the way he and Mom would have wanted it. My Dad had known George and Eva for decades.
Over the years many restaurants in Montreal patronized by my parents came and went. Years ago a standard was Les Jardins du Ritz in the Ritz Hotel on Sherbrooke street and its famous garden with duckling pond, you felt like you were in Paris. This was before the renovations 10 years ago when all changed.
Then there was many years ago The Coffee Mill on Mountain street, which closed around 1994, a Hungarian coffee shop which catered to so many Hungarians who fled the Uprising of 1956 in Hungary. It was very European, in its food, service and atmosphere, my mother loved it.
My parents also loved The Beaver Club dining room at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel, it was modelled on the famous Fur merchant’s Club established in 1785 near Beaver Hall Hill it closed in 2014.
Le Paris on Sainte Catherine street West, my parents knew the owner a Frenchman and it was a great little restaurant. Then the owner died suddenly and the restaurant closed a year later.
It seems that when I go back to Montreal now there are less and less places left where my parents and all of us went to, replaced as time moves on my more hip places but not as it once was.
Not in Montreal but in New York my Dad liked The Plaza hotel before it was turned into a condo style hotel and the restaurants and bars all closed. Only the Palm Court is left but it is not quite the same.
My parents spent their lives in the hotel/retaurant business and my Dad loved to find new restaurants and find out who was the Chef and what was his background. Before his death a few years ago, it became difficult to go out with him, he did not like the direction restaurants in general were taking, too much decor and not much on food and service. He was often appalled by the lack of attention to details or cleanliness, he wondered why people would put up with such low standards, noise and expensive prices. He did not find often good value for the money spent. In the last year of his life he was teaching restaurant management at the Hotel School in Montreal, he told me how un-motivated the students were and he finally asked them why they wanted to work in the hospitality industry, the answer was to make money, he was shocked by the answer. He explained to them that you went into that business because you liked people and wanted to offer a service not to make money.
For me there is nothing or little to return too in Montreal nowadays, I do not recognize the City, it has changed a lot and the people we knew save a few old friends are gone. The place of my childhood is gone but then again this is what happens in life, nothing stays the same.
July 2018 marks the centenary of the death of the last Russian emperor of the Romanov dynasty- Nicholas II and his family: the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, their five children, as well as their entourage. They were shot on the night of July 16 to July 17, 1918 in Yekaterinburg in the basement of the house of mining engineer Nikolai Ipatiev.
Today on the site of the house stands a church built recently and pilgrims gather to pray for the Imperial Family. Each year well over 100,000 people gather for this commemoration and pilgrimage to the mining pits site of their original burial by the communists.
The remains of Nicholas II, the Empress and their 5 children, as well as persons from the entourage of the Imperial Family, all shot in the house of Ipatiev, were found in July 1991 near Yekaterinburg. On July 17, 1998, the Tsar and his family were given a State Funeral and buried in the Peter and Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg with the exception of Alexei and Maria whose remains are still kept in the State Archives awaiting burial with their parents.
Burial chapel of the last Tsar and his family in the Peter and Paul Cathedral in St-Petersburg, site of the burial of all Tsars and other Royals.
In 1981, the Russian Orthodox Church abroad listed them as holy “martyrs”. In 2000, the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate of the murdered members of the royal family ranked the “passion-bearers” as holy.
In October 2008, the Presidium of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation decided to rehabilitate the Russian Emperor Nicholas II and his family.