Monday, 29 December 2014

Someone has my number

I follow Twisted Twigs on Gnarled Branches on Facebook with a horrified fascination.  

She gets a little too close for comfort on a regular basis.

This also gives you a clue to why I have little in the way of a post today.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Mickle melody

I have memories of both this carol and of the King's Singers, but not together.  I've seen a number of concerts with the King's Singers, not in their most recent incarnation, and certainly not singing this.

The song is one I've also not heard in a long time, and mainly remember: There was mickle melody at that Childe's birth/ Although they were in Heaven's bliss, they maden mickle mirth. I sang it long ago with a small choir, a different setting than this, and certainly not as beautifully.  When I hear it, I see the dark streets of Toronto at Christmastime.

Merry Fourth Day of Christmas.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Not for the faint of heart

My husband has a German last name, inherited from his very English father, an Anglican archdeacon. His grandfather had a German forename as well, hastily anglicized during his service in the Royal Naval Reserve during the First World War, although he could speak German, having been tutored by his Berlin-born paternal aunt.

When I submitted my husband's DNA for testing about two years ago,  I felt sure that we might find out more through the Y-chromosome testing.  However, not a single instance of his surname showed up on the matches.  What was clear, though, was something we've long suspected: 14% of his genetic make-up comes out as Jewish - Ashkenazi, to be precise, with possible national connections to Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania.  Also, despite the relatively small percentage of his total DNA, the vast majority of his matches at the Family Tree DNA website, both for Y-chromosome and autosomal,  appear to be American Jews.

With no surname match, things went a little dead in the water - until about a month ago, when his surname turned up in the family tree of a recent autosomal match with connections to Berlin and Poznan. The latter city is currently in Poland, but has links to Germany.  I wrote a quick email to the American who had submitted his DNA.  He told us that he had a cousin living a few miles away in his home state of California who shared the Resident Fan Boy's surname and that this cousin would be taking the Y-DNA test soon.

So we wait.  If this cousin shows up in the Resident Fan Boy's Y-DNA matches, we will have a better idea of where his paternal line goes.  If not, it's back to the drawing board, though I'm anticipating an autosomal match at least.

There is a painful side effect and it's one I've long been expecting.  In the family tree of the man with the autosomal match are, as I've said, several members bearing my husband's surname. They are in the line of this man's paternal grandmother.  With a sinking heart, I noticed there are families whose death dates are all in the early 1940s.  When I clicked on the profiles, I saw the words: "Auschwitz" and "Theresianstadt".

Yes, I knew this would happen eventually, but all the intellectual preparation in the world doesn't lessen the blow of seeing the names of people with the same last name as my husband and children, knowing how they died, and knowing that, somehow, they are ours.

Friday, 26 December 2014

Christmas March

Normally, when I head out for an afternoon walk on Christmas Day, I enjoy the peace of the seemingly deserted neighbourhood, an oasis of winter quiet in the centre of the pleasant, but slightly excessive sensory overload at home.
However, this year, Christmas Day seemed to have slid into March. Rain throughout Christmas Eve had been blasted out by a nighttime gale. The Resident Fan Boy said it sounded like the house was coming down. After an evening of frantic gift-wrapping, I had slept through it.

The afternoon brought strange yellowy sunshine and brownish-grey clouds rolling on gusts of damp wind. It resembled late winter/early spring in Hades - never my favourite time of year.
I tried to take comfort and joy from the Christmas lights clinging to stripped branches.
I thought a stroll by the Rideau River might do the trick, but I quickly realized that wet melting pewter-coloured ice with muddy puddles and my street shoes would be a perilous combination, and the Accent Snob and I turned around and made our way back through the bleak streets.
On the last side street before home, I saw bright globes in the gutter glaciers.
They had been whipped from this tree. (You can see the uppermost ornament being blown outward.) I rescued the baubles from the street and placed them in a porch corner, before continuing on to prepare Christmas dinner, feeling rather depressed and disappointed.

Oddly enough, when I headed out this afternoon on Boxing Day, taking the same route, the air felt gentler, the light softer. I exchanged pleasantries with my fellow dog-walkers (pretty well the only people abroad), and, booted this time, made my way along the riverbank where ducks hopped up onto the parts of the water that were still frozen over. I felt a whole lot better, and so lucky that there are twelve days of Christmas.

So many opportunities to get it right.

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Another Whovian Christmas

Our neighbour spotted our Tardis lights
and popped this into our mailbox!


Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Heavenly peace

Against all the odds, the tree is fully decorated, wrapped presents under its branches, and the Christmas cards are sent, although not likely to reach their destinations until the beginning of next week, I should think.

I'm not sure exactly why I failed to send cards and wrap the presents earlier; perhaps every now and then, I need to know where the bottom is.  The price of my procrastination has been the loss of some of the peace of Christmas Eve, which is so rare, so sweet, and so fleeting, that I think I will used the memory of this year to ensure I'm a little more ready next year.  I hope so, anyway.

Television programmes this evening are already tainted with early ads for Boxing Day Sales.  I find myself retreating to YouTube, of all places, for the type of programming that seems to have vanished from Canadian television.

We used to be able to see "Carols from Kings" here, on Christmas Eve.  I see someone has been religiously posting it (pun intended) since 2008, and this year's edition was uploaded just a few hours ago.  These carols vary a bit from year to year, but always seem to end with "Hark the Herald Angels Sing", and begin with that most English of sounds, the lone boy soprano, about to process with the rest of the choir as the pale late afternoon sunlight glows through the stained glass of King's College Chapel. 

I stumbled across this video channel this evening because I was searching for a 1980's video of Sting's version of "Gabriel's Message".

I rather love the shots of the plump children's feet stamping in the blanket of feathery fake snow, while Sting playfully grabs at their passing hands.

Oh, good night.  Time to surrender the brief peace as our corner of the world drifts into Christmas.  I hope wherever you are, you are warm and content.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

"Nobody cares"

I'm a little grumpy from writing inadequate messages in Christmas cards all day, cards that will arrive at their destinations by Epiphany, if I'm lucky.

Anyway, this video is probably viral, but I don't care.  I don't watch Downton Abbey; I gave up after the second season, and this very clever and funny spoof explains why.  Pay attention at 2:32, when Hugh Bonneville and series writer Julian Fellowes have an exchange.

Eighteen cards to go.  Then I can think about wrapping presents….

Monday, 22 December 2014

Not feeling too good myself

I was in a coffee shop downtown, having mailed my Christmas parcels and working on addressing envelopes, when the Resident Fan Boy texted me that Joe Cocker had died.

What a year for losses!  But then, it's not going to get any better, is it?

This guy didn't just sing songs; he transformed them.  Here's my favourite of his interpretations, a rendition of an old Traffic ditty.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

In the warm darkness of the solstice

As I've mentioned in this blog before, we have an annual tradition of attending the Vinyl Cafe Christmas Concert. Some of the concerts stay with me for days, even weeks afterward; others are pleasant, but forgettable.  This year's show will probably be one I won't remember, except that I suspect that this was our tenth concert.

About ten years ago, the Resident Fan Boy and I decided to splurge on Vinyl Cafe tickets and wound up in the last row of the upper balcony where we heard the story "Christmas at the Turlingtons" for the very first time.  If it was 2004, that would be about right, because Stuart McLean published the story in a compilation the following year.  I remember rocking with laughter in the warm dark balcony.  After that, I don't think we missed a year.  Ottawa is usually one of the final stops for the tour before the musicians and crew return to their homes in Toronto, so there's an atmosphere of "almost ready for Christmas" about the whole thing.

Stuart told an abbreviated version of the story this afternoon; he often picks an old classic as a warm-up before introducing the new stories.  One of the new ones was funny, and other was longer and very sentimental.  McLean is leaning more and more towards sentimental tales, it seems.  He's getting older and they seem to be crowd-pleasers.  I nodded off.  I'm getting older too.

Here's a sampling of the original version of "Christmas at the Turlingtons".  Whoever posted it has it in three parts and you can find them all at YouTube.

However (and I've said this before too), my very favourite Vinyl Cafe Christmas story is not the classic "Dave Cooks the Turkey".  It's a fine story, but it's not my favourite.  This one is, and if you can spare 23 minutes, I don't think you'll be sorry.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Focused and critical

Some years ago, I took a course on documentary film.  I have never forgotten it.  It was taught by a National Film Board of Canada film-maker, and among the many things he pointed out to us was the fact that a documentary film can never ever be totally objective, no matter what you've read about cinéma vérité.  We are looking through the film-maker's eyes; s/he has chosen what to shoot and where to zoom or pan out.  We saw many classics, among them Titicut Follies by Frederick Wiseman, about the Bridgewater State Hospital in Massachusetts.  I chiefly remember a chilling scene where a prisoner declared insane by the state articulately argues that he is sane, and how the staff, after his departure from the meeting, explain among themselves how everything he has said proves his mental illness.

Today, I remembered that National Gallery, Wiseman's latest film, was showing at the Bytowne Cinema.  There was a huge line-up to see it, but I managed to secure a seat on the far aisle.  The movie begins with galleries filling with art-lovers and their faces which all have similar expressions:  the head pulled back, the eyes focused and critical.  The faces are all male, for some reason.  When the voices begin, they are female - the voices of the docents, addressing crowds of patrons, or lectures for art teachers,  or workshops for blind and nearly blind art-lovers who are feeling specially upraised outlines of paintings while they listen.

Three pieces that figure heavily in my own life are featured, albeit briefly: "Doge Leonardo Loredan" by Bellini; "The Fighting Temeraire" by Turner (both favourites of my mother's), and the Burlington House cartoon which I encountered on my first trip to London. I had never heard of it before and loved it so much that I would hurry back into the National Gallery at every opportunity to drink it in, even if there were only fifteen minutes available.  I got posters and postcards of it, of course, but it didn't match the magic of being able to gaze on the original.

The film takes us into boardrooms where the accents are (mostly) Oxbridge, females address males whose arms are crossed.  We return to more docents where the accents are more varied: Scottish, Australian, and (mostly) Estuary.  The faces of the gallery staff are all white, while the gallery visitors are every colour, and, in the case of school groups, possibly there under duress.  All manner of people bundle up against the weather (I think this was mostly filmed around Christmas of 2012) and wait overnight to secure tickets to a Leonardo Da Vinci exhibit. Greenpeace guerrillas post a protest banner across the facade as passersby gape and the police wait to move in.  Paintings being cleaned and restored, and scholars argue for and against such restorations. We see a television arts series being filmed, and press conferences, and opening galas attended by very wealthy people.  We see a life class featuring models with, miracle of miracles, unwaxed pubic hair.  We see piano recitals, ballet, and a poetry reading by Jo Shapcott.
This isn't footage from the documentary, but a film by the National Gallery done about the same time.  Jo Shapcott says roughly the same things in Wiseman's documentary, but ruins it a little by explaining that Callisto was experiencing rape a second time when exposed by Diana, because she had experienced "rape of a sort" by Jupiter.  I have double-checked the versions of the myth.  I think it's pretty safe to say that she was raped by Jupiter, period.

By the third hour, I was fighting to keep myself awake -- not because it was boring, but because the movies is probably about 45 minutes too long.  But I was happy I stayed to the end which features faces from many of the paintings that have been featured.  They stare at us, the eyes focussed and critical.