Thursday, December 29, 2011

Anyone for a walk

I walk every day.

That should read, I have started again to walk every day.

The last 2 days I have gone up to Charise's house, down Northmount, at 14th street turned to go past the Festival of Lights, and then across 19th and back to my house. That takes about 1 1/2 hours.

I had to take a tour through the Festival Lights. When I was driving by, someone in the back seat noticed that you can go through the fence and walk on the foothills around the lights.

In the daylight I checked it out. Children were sledding down the hills. There is a light sprinkle of sand on the snow, not enough to give full traction so there was slipping here and there -- just enough to give my inner drillmaster the right to bawl me out for taking risks.

Before that route, I walked up to the Children's Hospital from my house and then back again. That takes one hour. I am in dire need of walking, enough so that I should be taking both routes in the day, not just one.

Any route will do. I am not walking that fast. By the end I do have a small sweat going, but I never break into a run and always walk slow enough that I could talk.

Wish some of you lived close enough to join me.

Arta

Friday, December 16, 2011

Venice

Our mom bought us masks in Venice
From Mary

This weekend I finally took a picture of my kids all wearing the masks I bought them in Venice.

Arta and I had two days in Venice, most of which was taken up on organized tours.  Amongst other things, we visited the Dodge’s Palace, took a ride in a gondola, saw two different Murano glass workshops, and had quick walks through two church – San Gorgio Maggiore and St Mark’s Basilica.  

At San Gorgio maggiore there was a really cool Anish Kapoor installation.  http://www.designboom.com/weblog/cat/10/view/15056/anish-kapoor-ascension-at-venice-2011.html

Venice was the only city that we got to “stay overnight”.  Most evenings the boat was travelling to the next port.  So the evening spent in Venice, we walked its streets and bridges.  Instead of stopping for dinner, we just had a gelato every few blocks.  We may have had 4 cones by the time the evening was over.

The most surprising part of the evening was walking over the Rialto Bridge and having a handsome gentleman say to us, “Good evening ladies.”  We looked up, and it was Greg, standing outside shop that Wyona had wandered into (the Rialto Bridge is one a very few walking bridges in the world that is lined on both sides with shops). 

Can you imagine how hard we laughed?  What are the chances we would run into each other? 

I had planned to buy my kids something made of glass in Venice, but instead, after shopping and passing a dozen stores or more selling masks, I decided on masks for the kids.

Mary


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Halloween Revisted

Our mother left us home so she could see scary sights in Italy

From Mary

Naomi and Xavier both chose unusually coloured pumpkins this year.

Rhiannon stuck with the traditional orange.

Grandma Pat and Leo helped with the carving since I was off on my Mediterranean cruise.

For Halloween, I got to visit Pompeii and see the human remains that have been discovered there.

That was spooky too.

Mary

Christmas Memories

David Camps asked his mom and dad to talk about Christmas Memories, so their family sat down and went around their small circle, both Bonnie and Joaquim sharing memories from the past.  When it came time for David's turn he confessed he had no Christmas memories.  His mom asked him if he could remember where he was last year at Christmas, and as soon as he remembered that he was in Catalonia, he too could bring some Christmas memories.

He will have more than enough memories for this year, if he decides to do the same "Christmas Memories" talk with his parents.  He came to Bonnie with a surprise -- to him.  He had read in a book that you can take the pine cones from the forest, paint them, sprinkle glitter on them, and use them to dress a holiday tree. 

"Did you know you can do that mom?", he asked 

In the same craft book, there is also a discussion of how to cut oranges, put a string through them, dry them and hang them on a tree for decorations.  Bonnie phoned to ask if I had ever done that.  The oranges that she quartered and strung look more like rotting compost than a beautiful craft as they hang alongside the glittering, painted pine cones.

Ah, sweet Christmas memories.

Arta

Monday, December 12, 2011

Sweeet Chocolate Christmas

Tempering chocolate
From Mary

Here is my hand, hard at work on Saturday.   

We dipped 4 batches of fondant, 2 batches of caramels, 2 batches of truffles and 1 batch of fondant left over from last year that was still in the freezer (mint, water fondant).   

The day seemed to breeze by with 2 dippers and 2 rollers.   

I can never go back to just 2 people trying to get everything done.

We even put a little sprinkle of red sea salt on top of half of the dipped caramels.  Mmmmm.

There was one hitch.  I turned up the heat in the frying pan and my colleague, not knowing it was turned up for a few seconds, scraped the bottom of the pan with her hand and was burned by it.  Ouch.  I wish it had been my hand and not hers.

Another hitch.  I have Arta's plastic and metal molds.  I wanted to finish up the melted chocolate, so I filled the metal molds, even putting a nut in the middle.  I couldn't get the candy to come out of the molds.  After Arta and I talked on the phone, I froze the chocolates that I couldn't get out of the molds, since I had tried every other way I could think of.  

 Later, Leo hit the back of the molds with a hard rubber hammer -- and voila.  The chocolates popped right out.  Now I don't have to discard those molds into the pile of things I am never going to use again, which is what Arta told me to do with them, seeing as she couldn't make them work either.

M

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Faust and Don Giovanni

Faust
Photo: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times



In the midst of Christmas festivities, here come 2 more NY Met Operas Live in HD.



Dec 10th: Faust
Read the NY Times Review


Dec 17th: Don Giovanni

Read Mark Ronan's Theatre Reviews
 or even better, the read the New York Times Review
Don Giovanni Encore on Dec 17
Photo: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera

See you at the movies /opera.

Arta

For a more in depth critique, a family one, take a look at Rebecca's blog about the Faust performance.

If the link doesn't work try: http://carter-johnson.blogspot.com/2011/12/heaven-and-hell-or-maybe-reverse.html

Ernestine Shuswap Gets Her Trout

... good entertainment ... free for U of C Students ...
$15 for others
Thomson Highway’s Ernestine Shuswap Gets Her Trout is playing at 7:30 pm at the Reeve Theatre until December 10.

I am going to slip over and see it again this week.

The last names of the protagonists represent B.C. First Nations tribes: Ernestine Shuswap, Isabel Thompson and Annabel Okanagan.

The figures wear Greek masks – really abbreviated masks that only cover their cheeks and forehead, the rest of their faces heavily painted.

The coyote, raven and otter appear as trickster figures. The big kahuna of the play is Sir Wilfred Laurier, who made a visit to the First Nations people in B.C. in 1910. He promised to take action on their concerns. A few months later he lost the federal election and their troubled relationship with the federal government is still a point being addressed.

The play is a mix of Greek, Christian and native mythology and the mix kept me on my toes all evening.

Mak and I looked at the stage setting before the play began. I couldn’t figure out why there was a large five dollar bill on the curtain, until half-way through the play when I figured out – yes, Sir Wilfred Laurier’s face is on that bill. The play is fun and vivacious ... and also political and sad.

Hard not to be laughing when you hear that Ernestine Shuswap is to cook a rainbow trout for the banquet, since no one from the east wants to eat salmon.

Isabel Thomson is to bring 624 Saskatoon pies so she spends a lot of time onstage, picking berries.

Annabel is boiling beaver for the feast but tells us at the end of the play, her food really stinks and she finally admits she should have stuffed the beaver with berries.

And Delilah Rose Johnson wonders why she has to hem table clothes for the event since she and her people have been sitting on the ground and eating their food for 6,000 years.  Why the change now?

Did I like the play?

I am going again before the weeks is out – trying for tomorrow night.  Here is a review from a 2009 production in Vancouver if you wish to read more about the play.

Email me if you can join me.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Riding Lessons


Xaiver and Naomi have been taking horseback riding lessons once a week for 6 weeks.  

They have 2 weeks to go then Christmas holidays.  

We’ll see if we can keep it up in the New Year.  

The stable is only 20 minutes from our house and has an indoor riding arena.  

They are loving it.  

Naomi rides William (said the French way) and Xavier rides Billy (again said with a French accent).  

They have learned how to ride with feet in and out of the stir-ups and how to trot.  
They have done a little jumping and are learning how to “bounce” with the horse when he trots.  

I don’t know the technical term for that.

Hugs,

Mary

Reading with Grandpa

Rhiannon listening to Dr. Seuss
Kelvin has been in Montreal with Catherine for two months.

He is staying one more week to hear the the Jarvis family doing Christmas concerts.

Kelvin and I were asked how many grandchildren we have.

I said thirteen.

He said fourteen, with an assurity that I didn't have.
... Hebe and Rhiannon ...
 ...two of fourteen ...

I asked him how he did that math.

It was easy for him, because he knew to count the addition before little Mike Johnson was born.

Here is number fourteen -- Hebe, reading on the couch with Catherine, Rhiannon and Kelvin.

Arta

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Pitmen Painters

"So you want to see the  The Pitmen Painters?", Wyona asked us over the phone yesterday.  The choice was between that and going back to see Legally Blonde again, since Wyona's keen eye had figured out that the person who used to play Bob Gaudio in The Jersey Boys, was now playing Emmet in Legally Blonde.  That was a fine second choice, but we decided instead to see a play that was new to us, and one that is getting good reviews.

You can read the link to the review to know how the critics feel about the play.  I confessed that just before the intermission a few quiet tears had rolled down my cheeks and Rebecca confessed that she had choked back a few sobs at the same moment.  The play is insanely funny, the dialogue exquisitely fine tuned and the thematic material still relevant.  A wonderful way to finish off the theatre in London this time.

Love,

Arta

p.s. from Rebecca....

scene from Pitmen Painters

One of the great things about the show was the way it incorporated the art itself.  Each time one of the guys did a painting, it would go up on the easel, and then they would all talk about it (perhaps 'critique' is a more accurate word).  They projected a large version of the piece above the stage so you could really see the thing they were talking about.  And the discussions about the paintings were hysterically funny (and sometimes moving to the point of tears). 

But each painting, once discussed, stayed on stage (in The Hut where the men worked, just leaning against the walls).  The layers of paintings built up over the play so that by the end of the thing, you felt so familiar with the paintings you had seen.  I love this image from the play... it is one of the first paintings they did/talked about, and so i can't see the image without breaking into a smile.

At the end of the play, i was left thinking.  I have started buying the CD for each musical we go to.  My thinking is, "Hey... I am in London, and just paid to see a huge group of people come together to produce a moment of theatre.... why would I NOT get the CD?!"  Each time the tunes come on at home, i am flung back to the space of the performance. So... after THIS show, I turned to Arta and said "I am sure there is no CD, but this play makes me want to buy a book of the paintings!"  :-)   and there is indeed such a book (available on amazon).  If you want to read more on the painters themselves, you can follow this link
(and then click on 'About' or 'Artists' to see more).  I am most definitely going to try and take my kids to this one!http://www.musicomh.com/theatre/pitmen_0508.htm

Nose at the Window

Wyona made some perfect cruise bookings.  The cruise companies changed itineraries, gave her minimal compensation and we were left with an insane return flight schedule to Canada.  Instead of going London – Calgary, the sensible thing to do, we are going London – Berlin – Barcelona – Frankfurt – Calgary.  There is some sunshine lining every cloud.  Because of the change in schedule, I have seen Berlin – not on my itinerary, but there it was before me today -- grey and I didn't get out of the airport -- but my passport is stamped, "Berlin".   

As well, my nose was pressed to the airplane window for the 15 minutes while we flew over the Mediterranean along the coast of Spain.  The blue of the ocean was cut by the curve of the land, and then the deep violet of the mountains behind were set off by the pink clouds in the sunset.  I was shaking my head, not believing I was seeing such beauty.

We tried to have supper at the hotel tonight, but true to Spanish custom, the dining room doesn’t open until 8:30 pm – far too late for us to begin a meal.  While we were talking to the maitre de, he drew his elastic barrier that runs between 2 silver poles in front of us, as though we were going to bolt and get into his dining room ahead of time.  Wyona, Greg and I took a vote and decided to have a genuine German sausage breakfast in Frankfurt tomorrow, instead and to call our foray into Wyona’s candy stash, supper.  At first, we thought we would walk into the community tonight and find a restaurant, but he clerk at the hotel desk reminded us it is Sunday today – only downtown Barcelona stores are open.  As well, this week are two holidays – one on Tuesday and one on Thursday.  So, he said, most people have taken off Monday, Wednesday and Friday and are just making a week of it.

I am looking forward to the German breakfast.  This morning I had English mustard when I went with Wyona and Greg to the Star Alliance Lounge in the airport.  I thought I was adding regular French’s Mustard to my plane, but at the first taste of it, and after I had recovered from that choking pungent taste, more akin to a eating mustard plaster than to tasting Canadian home-style mustard, I decided to give a new look to breakfast possibilities – thus the journey of looking foward to a German breakfast tomorrow.  Ah, the sweet cleansing of the sinuses for today.

I am hoping for another eating surprise tomorrow.

Arta

Saturday, December 3, 2011

London in December

Rebecca thought we had keys for the house in London when we returned from South Hampton.  We didn’t.  That is the day I stayed for a few hours with 6 suitcases in the dental surgery apartment  across the road, waiting for her to come home.  The next day, we went off to the theatre and we  thought Rebecca had keys for her own house to use when she returned from her pottery class.  She didn’t.   That is the day she climbed over the fence to break into her own house.  How can Rebecca go to the locksmith, have 10 keys made, and soon there aren’t enough to spread around.  The only person who is safely able to get into the house here is Duncan, who carries his key as the fob on his winter jacket.  So he is good for entry into the house, as long as he is wearing his ski jacket when he goes out.

We have two more full days here.  Two other full days have passed.  We split up and go our separate ways when our interests diverge.  Greg went off to have lunch with old colleagues.  Rebecca, Wyona and I went to see Legally Blonde – not that Rebecca doesn’t know this play.  She teaches it in Law and Film.  But this is musical theatre and has the camp that the movie misses.  She was not the only one in the theatre laughing, nor the only one in our row.  Some jokes are like the old Laurel and Hardy movies.  No matter how many times you see the sequence, you still laugh.  When she asked us afterwards, which are your favourite parts, we begin to list them and can’t stop.  The opening scene where the possible engagement of the protagonists is being celebrated, the scene in the restaurant where Emmett and Elle Woods are having conversations with cross-purposes (him about moving on, and her about finalizing their relationship), Elle’s work studying the tome, LSAT for Dummies .... there isn’t a scene that doesn’t have the charm that keeps people coming back to that show again and again.  “How could this piece of musical theatre beat out Love Never Dies in he Olivier awards,” we ask you other over and over.  But when you wipe all other musical theatre off the map by taking 7 out of 8 awards – there doesn’t need to be more evidence than that for the reason people.

That night, Greg and I split up again.  Wyona went to see the musical, Backbeat, about the early Beatles and Greg and I went to Three Days in May, an exploration of Churchillian politics and Hitler’s attempted take-over of England. 

Ah, sweet London theatre.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

No time for the following ...

When I was out catching the sun setting through the dock infrastructure, I thought ... enough of this.
... sunset on the dock ...

Enough picture taking.

There are many things on the ship I have wanted to do and missed.

For example, I missed getting in the jacuzzi and the swimming pool.

When it looks like this ... who would have wanted to miss this.
... an early morning peek at the pool ...

The point of a cruise is to have more activities going on, than a person can do -- the only way to make passengers happy.

I didn't get to bingo, nor to any of the trivia games.

No casino for me.

And the line dancing which I wanted to go was always at the same time as the destination lecture, which I felt I couldn't miss.

I didn't get to any of the movies ... until the last night on board.

I know how to change this, I thought.

Eighteen movies and I missed them all.
... a colourful spot for sunbathing and swimming ...

So when the last party on the promennade had died down and it was 11 pm, I slipped off to the screening room.

Me and four others ... for the screening of How to Train a Dragon.

I was the only one left in the theatre when I looked around and the credits were running by.

At 1 am, I walked down the promenade alone, all of the party goers now asleep.

Attendants were at the pizza joint and the snack bar was fully stocked.

I enjoyed looking at the baked goods behind glass.

I knew that in four weeks, I would be wishing, I were back here.

But the last night on board?

When the movie was over?

I couldn't put one thing on a plate ... even for tomorrow.

Perhaps, next cruise.

I am topped up for now ... and happy.

Arta

Birds

Bird says, "Hello, Wyona."
This is not my preferred way of spending a morning on the balcony.

Taking pictures of birds.

But by the time I got out there, the birds were coming in, trying to get a few crumbs of croissants right out of Wyona's hands.

Hard not to grab the camera for they come by in singles, and then in groups.

To get a balcony or not to get a balcony.

That is the question.

It is a bit more money.

And do you want to spend your money hanging over the side of it so many times -- the morning, the evening.

I have liked the balcony.

We slip out there early in the morning when we dock and hang over the edge, watching the ropes thrown onto shore.

We sit out there for small increments of 10 minutes, 15 minutes, enjoying the fresh breeze and the wonderful warm air.

We bring our snacks back and eat out on the balcony.

I took out some blankets and slept there one afternoon.

Oh, so sweet ... cruising, even with the birds.

Arta

The Airstrip at Gibralter

  ... plane lands on the short runway in Gibralter ...
I had attended the destination lecture for Gibraltar where I learned that they have one of the shortest runways in the world.  And one of the smallest pieces of land -- Gibraltar being about one mile by three miles until you run into Spanish territory.  In fact the road the separates the two countries runs right through the airport runway, so all of the cars have to stop and wait while a plane lands.

I was on deck watching a man take a video of the land.  "Whoops," he said, "my camera just ran out of memory."

Too bad for him.    But my camera was fine.

Thus, I was pleased to see this plane come in, and even more pleased to get a shot as it landed successfully.

Short runway!

Formal Night

 ... my cruise clothing coach ...

Wyona’s previous cruises made her more aware of formal night than I, and long before I got on board she was making sure I would be appropriately dressed. She doesn’t pass by a rack of formal wear that has a 75% off sale sign on it.  Before we left on the cruise she had seen that I had dress-up black to wear for the nights when formal dining occurs and even for some nights when we dress up and no one else on the ship does.  The entertainment value of doing dress-ups is high for two little prairie girls who grew up either watering wild crocuses or using her mother’s canning jars to keep car of the frogs she caught in the pond.

Last night, the men were in pleated white shirts, black bow ties, and there were many stylish black suits as well as formal tuxedos on the scene at night.  As well, the ship’s cruise director wore a red sequined suit, something I have only seen on stage before. The women sparkle with rhinestones and glitter.  Even if there were no food involved, it would still be a grand evening, with even the waiters in splendid finery and a piano/string trio playing on the mezzanine of a fine two-story staircase. 

 At 7:45 pm, suddenly the dining room was empty.  “Hey, what are they running off to that we are missing,” I asked. 

“The theatre,” said Wyona.  ”They must be vying for each other for those theatre seats.  Time for us to stop the fine dining and queue up with the rest. ” 

We got our places in row G seats 1, 2 and 3 and settled back for our usual 45 minute nap between a formal supper and the entertainment. 

But there was action 2 rows ahead of us.  The two people on the end of  Row E were leaping up and down, letting people into that row.  Seats were being save – about ten of them, and as couples would come to take them good naturedly, the people on the end would bob up and down.  Now there is a large electronic sign high on both side of the curtain that says in large florescent letters:  out of courtesy to other patrons, the saving of seats is strictly prohibited and not allowed under any circumstances.  The words NOT ALLOWED are in florescent bold as opposed to just florescent.  Still, the seats were being saved in front of us, until someone came marching down the isle with her friend, bobbed past the two on the end, and went to take those seats, since the saving of them is strictly prohibited. 

“These seats are saved,” said the one woman.

“You aren’t allowed to save seats,” said the new comer, pointing high to the sign.

“I am saving them.”

“I am taking them.”  The argument went back and forth, with the woman who had come in to take the seats, finally acquiescing and saying, “I will give you the benefit of the doubt.”  But on the way out, another person in the save-sies group blasted at her, “Well, I am nearly 100 years old.”

“Well, I am too,” said the woman who had been leaving, but now turned back to take that seat again and reiterating, “You can’t save seats.  I am taking these.”

The theatre is broken up into quadrants, waiters going up and down the aisles and delivering pre-theatre drinks and cocktails, which fit nicely into the arms of a person’s chair.  One of the waiters must have alerted one of the Assistant Cruise Directors that there was trouble down in front, for a handsome blonde lad in a tux was down trying to sort out this mess, and shadowing him was the second in command of all of the directors.  “I apologize.  I know we are crowded.  I am so sorry this has happened.  But you can’t save the seat,” said the first assistant director, siding with the women who was taking the seats. 

By now the people on our isle and the isle behind us were taking bets on how the fight ahead of us was going to end, Wyona, turning backward to report to the row behind us, and keeping the people there apprised of all of the initial action that they had been missing. 

The end couple were still bobbing up and down, letting people in and out, for the woman with the courage to take the seat that ought not to have been saved, wasn’t followed by her friend, who slipped quietly back out of the row and away to some other place in the theatre.  But someone else looking for a single slipped was in there, and before we knew it, the woman who had been there for 45 minutes, saving seats for all of her friends hopped out of her seat and huffed off, scattering more scurrilous words along her way as she left.  And all of this going on, dressed as we were in our best formal attire.

I thought the whole event was over and laid my head on the backrest, hoping I could get enough sleep in the next ten minutes to stay awake for the show.   But the man behind us sounded, “Round Two”, at which point we looked down to see that the end couple had bobbed up again, to let an angry husband into the row, who was shouting and looked as though he was ready to knee-cap the woman who had chased his wife out of the auditorium.  Apparently he had arrived back from his stateroom to finish the battled off.  

“I am not afraid of you,” shouted the tiny woman at the large man looming over her, the end couple no longer bobbing  up and down again, but just perched on the end of the seats, knowing that someone else had to come out of the row, though they didn’t know who it would be.

Greg was the happiest of all to see the house lights go down.  “Greg is wanting to give up his seat to anyone, just to have the quarrel over,” Wyona whispered to me. 

And the show? 

Was it good? 

Yes, every bit as good as the pre-show entertainment of the passengers dressed in their formal attire fighting with each other for the best seats in the house.  

The idea of British Comedy -- brought to a new high for me.

Quoting Samuel Johnson

Samuel Johnson said, “The grand objective of travelling is to see the shore of the Mediterranean”.   
Mediterranean Sunset


I agree with him.  

The water is blue.  

The sand is clean.  

The sunsets are spectacular.  

The sunrises are amazing with their pinks and reds, sometimes with beams of light piercing the clouds and travelling down long paths through the air and onto the water.  

... from the jogging deck ...
People have come to this sea for millenniums – either as merchants or as invaders.  

I have come for different reasons.

Unlike Samuel Johnson, I have been thinking that the grand objective of travelling is to taste every new food on the menu.  

I try to let nothing escape me:  duck a l’orange was on one menu.  

The next day there was duck liver in a butter tart crust.  I told Wyona that what I have to do is taste what I want and leave the rest.  I was through after ¼ of the duck liver tart, but had to keep myself going until I had finished ¾ of it – just in case that taste never came my way again.   That was a little too much duck liver.

Mushy peas is the bottom of the list of foods that interest me, but Wyona took some of them on her plate a couple of days ago – just to see if they are as horrid as I say. 

“Taste them from my plate.  They are really good.”  But when she went back to them later in the meal she said, “”I can’t believe I put those in my mouth.”  The reason that mushy peas comes to mind is that there is a burger bar (turkey burgers, beef burgers, chicken burgers), as well as all the condiments a person would put on a burger.  There is also a huge plate of English fries to add as a side-dish, ... and mushy peas.  Sometimes I stand there before I plate up my own food, just watching to see if people really do take mushy peas.  The answer is yes – people take as much as eight ounces of them, and they drop them right on top of their fries. 

We were talking about this later. There is no way to account for the tastes of home in all of us.  Greg said that he remembers lasagne at his house – there was always that as a comfort food.  Wyona can remember the taste of warm pie.

On this point, while we were walking in Gibraltar, I overhead this conversation:

Woman 1:  I have not been able to buy any ox liver lately.

Woman 2: And I haven’t been able to find any ox tongue or gizzard.

Woman 1: It makes you wonder what they are doing with all of the ox liver, tongue and gizzard.  Why is it in such short supply.

Questions I would never ask about food!

In the overall scheme of travelling this cruise, I have enjoyed the 11 am bridge lessons as much as anything.  Probably those and the morning walks around the deck would be in my top two choices to repeat again. 

I have to add that the destination lectures have come in at a close third.  When we were learning about the Greeks being conquered again and again over the centuries, this gem dropped.  The written word was not plentiful, and stories and myths that were memorized and passed down were highly valuable.  In fact, conquers gave those who had huge chunks of stories memorized, more food than those who didn’t have their memory work done.

Given that formula, I would be among the dying now, since I don’t have too much memorized anymore.  I rely on the internet.  I had no idea that I go to do an internet search so many times in the day until I got on this boat, and the access to the internet is limited since it costs about a dollar a minute.  I try not to go to google on board, since I am likely to get trapped into many more minutes than I wish to pay for, when I need to answer a question ... and then another ... and then another.
I am leaving the evening entertainment right out of the formula of things I have loved on the boat, because it is lovely to go to a show every night, and then to go to it again, when the second performance is given.  The evening entertainment is pleasurable – a nice meal, and then a short walk to the theatre for 18 days.  Yup.  I wouldn’t have wanted to miss that.

Three thousand, six hundred people can get on this boat – and when it is full, 4,200.  But the evening venue for the shows only holds 1,800 people.  So when the shows are done twice, there still isn’t much room in the theatre if everyone tries to go to the first showing, which in this passage everyone seems to want to do.  This is the last of the Mediterranean crossings and we are a group that is 80% British, and among those, many who are trying to squeeze in the last 18 days of a lost summer. 

But given how old most of that group are ... they like the early dining and the early show and while they can’t run for most of the day, they can make a dash to get those theatre seats before their mates do.

The Beatles Celebration

... somewhere ... over the rainbow ... way up high ...
The day had been lovely.  

A rainbow on the seas after we missed the precipitation that the dark clouds were holding.

Wyona and Greg wanted to hear the Big Band playing in the Pyramid Lounge last night.  I was torn as to whether I wanted to hear the Beatles Celebration, or just go back to my room, having missed big parts of that Beatles era, I thought. 
 
“Why don’t you just go to the end of the first concert?  You can catch the last 20 minutes of it, and see if you want to go back to the second concert,” said Wyona.  

 Now that was a brilliant idea, I thought, so I sashayed past people who were already living up for the second concert and found a seat in the first showing, seeing enough to think I might take in the whole event again.   

These Beatles impersonators reminded me that those four original lads are the ones who changed the face of Rock and Roll forever.  I thought I didn’t know any of the songs from the era.  But I heard “Come On”, “I Wanna Hold your Hand”, “She Loves You”, “A Hard Days Night”, “Yesterday”, “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club”, and “Something in the Way She Moves”. 

Women danced in the isles to the left side of me.  The man next to me seemed to sleep through the whole concert, which gave him the energy to stand up and twist with the rest of the audience at the closing of the show.   

Yes.  I went back for the second showing of the evening.

A rainbow in every day and multi-coloured music in every evening.

Arta

Jokes

Greg has a favourite joke from the cruise, as do I.  Wyona says that the one I love is an old one, so it doesn’t hold charm for her like it does for me.  My joke is the one where the comedian says, I feel sorry for people who don’t drink.  When they wake up in the morning, they know that is the best they are going to feel all day.  I like the joke because when I wake up in the morning, I do know that I will feel a little better than this, as soon as I warm up to the day and get my muscles more flexible.  But still, ... in general broad terms ... nope, I am not going to feel much better all day than when I wake up, and I am lucky for right now when I wake up, I feel brilliant.

Greg’s joke is also about good health.  The question goes, how are you today.  The answer is, I am not feeling all that well.  I went to my friend’s  funeral yesterday, and I caught the wreath.

Now a word about having Mary on board with us on the last cruise.  We had a lovely foursome at dinner for 12 days and were so busy doing other things on the ship that we didn’t have time to make many friends.  Mary and I, Greg and Wyona did have mirroring balconies – so if there was something to be seen on the other side of the boat, we could run from one side to the other, using the phone line to alert each other to land seen on one side of the boat or mountains or islands.  Now no one calls us on the phone – only a wrong number or two.  For us, to have someone knock at our door is a big deal on this trip, even though it is only the steward returning Greg’s laundry to the room.  We invite him right in and have a visit. 

We have made a few friends, but remember, our 3 supper mates left us to join others they knew on the cruise, old friends.  

Thus, our new friendship group is small.  We are so lazy, it didn't even get into the double digits this cruise.

Wyona occasionally runs into old dance partners, like Peter, who likes to give her a kiss on each cheek when he sees her.  I don’t know how she does it.  Greg is right at her side and still other men are tumbling over her. Is it her subtle make-up,? The rows of ruffles she adds to her clothing? Her gold wrist jewellery?  Her refined dance steps?

I only get questions from passengers and crew like “Madam, are you lost?”  That is what one of the stewards asks when I get to the end of the ship to the sun-room suites, which suites  go no where and have no elevator running up and down the floors beside them.

This morning even the water fountain on Deck 12 was not cooperating for me.  We were going 15 knots an hour, and the wind was 68 kilometers an hour when I was walking the jogging track this morning.  I was having to hold myself from going forward too fast when the wind was at my back, and having to dig into the wind to make forward movement when I was going the other way.  When I stopped to get water at the fountain, instead of it making a nice arc, it blew straight up and then over to my wrist and down the sleeve of my jacket.  Only one other serious runner was on deck.  

 ... an evening sunset ... to me ... breathtaking ...
I found it easy to stay there and not duck inside, imagining that when I get home it will be 20 below whichever way the wind is blowing, and knowing there will be ice under my feet.
 
Thus, I thought I was still having a good time.  

Today the sea is 2,000 metres deep beneath us, and this voyage has taken us 4,000 miles from Southampton to Rome and back.   

All at sea level.

What an adventure.

The Captain's Lunch

Nov 26, 2011

“How did they get in without an invitation?”

That was Greg’s question tonight. 

The three of us received an invitation to the captain’s lunch – meant for pinnacle, diamond plus, diamond and platinum members.  A payoff for returning patrons.  Lucky for me, I have reached one of those categories because I tag along with Wyona and Greg and get to have my name put on invitations with theirs.

Before this first event for me, they would go off to hear the Captain talk – everyone in the room with a glass of champagne in their hands, or off to the Captain’s brunch or hors oeuvres with the Captain. Now this invitation had my name on it as well, and said in a kind way, in order to be admitted, the card had to be shown at the door. 

And yes, we were checked at the door.  When I went in, about five steps ahead of Greg and Wyona, instead of offering me that sanitizing cloth that everyone has to rub on their hands before they go in to the dining room, the one the woman was holding one in her hand, instead of putting it in mine, she held it behind her back and she asked me, “How could I help you today?” 

Now I had dressed up for the occasion (was smart casual) and my name was on that invitation. I had on my new cameo, the one I have been practising wearing, the one I wanted one ever since I was a child.  Older women would wear ones in the late 1940’s, ones that I would admire and in my 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, even 50’s, I would go by Birks and looking longing at samples in the windows, wondering when my time (enough $$$) would come to get one. 

When I was with Mary in Pompeii, I bought one and have taken to the practise of wearing it, since I have so many decades that I missed wearing one in and must make up for it to get the cost per wearing down.  Even that piece of jewellery was ready and on for the Captain’s specialty lunch.

“I am here for the Captain’s lunch,” I explained.  “My invitation is with them,” I answered pointing to Wyona and Greg.  The sanitizing cloth came immediately to my hand, along with a lovely welcome, though the invitation was securitized as they passed it to the gatekeeper on their side of the isle.
We were seated and soon another couple joined us in the MacBeth dining room.   

“How many cruises have you been on,” said Wyona and when they answered this was their first one, the rest of us handled the news with aplomb, not missing a beat but as Greg said, how did they get in --and asking them how they were enjoying it, would they take another and where were they from, what shows they had enjoyed onboard ... to which the answer was they were from Lutton and after the shows, the bars are so full they can’t find a place to get a drink. That is about it for how much conversation they offered. Greg worked hard for the rest of the meal, keeping the dialogue going, but he couldn’t get any information from them ... about the man’s work, their family, what else they liked to do. 

We had seen someone turned away from the dining room the night before, miffed and loudly arguing with the person who had denied them entrance, but every Cruise Compass reminds people of appropriate attire: bare feet, shorts, tank tops and t-shirts are not permitted in the dining room.  This couple, however, made it passed the gatekeepers and the couple were wearing shorts and t-shirts and without a captain’s invitation, unlike me, dressed to the nines and still stopped. 

Events like these take a lot of time for the three of us try to figure out how that just happened.  Did they make it through because they were so old no one stopped them? Perhaps they are so deaf they didn’t hear someone telling them to stop which is Greg’s guess.  A good guess given they only nodded and smiled at him all dinner when he tried to get conversation going?   

Or did they accidently take their place in this dining room, since it is their usual assigned one for evening sitting and they just missed knowing which meal they were going to and came to lunch instead of supper?   

Who knows, but the whole incident makes the three of us burst out laughing when we talk about it.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Cadiz, Spain

Cadiz church lit in the background
... from the top of the ship ...
Why couldn't we find it from the ground?
November 25, 2011

I saw the Cathedral from the top of the ship this morning as I was taking my walk.  I couldn’t see any clear path that lead to it – only a maize of streets.  How hard can it be to find something that high, I thought as I was walking the deck.  But as soon as Wyona, Greg and I got on the cobbled streets, the Cathedral disappeared from our view.  We walked through narrow streets, enjoying the wrought iron balconies, the tiled walls of the the plazas and the marble under our feet and searching for a way through the streets to the church.

The entrance fee was three euros for Spanish pensioners, and five euros for all others except those in groups for whom the price dropped to three Euros again.  “Do you want to form a group and get in a little cheaper?” asked Wyona to people behind us who were also looking at the entrance fee. 

And that is how we made our way into the cathedral for 3 euros where we spent a quiet Friday afternoon trying to see what it is about the neo-classical style of the 19th century that is definitely Spanish. The old stone out of which the church is built is porous and  disintegrating.  The ceiling is falling into the nave of the church.  A fine net is strung from one end of the church to the other to keep that ceiling from falling on the worshipers and the travellors as well. I was trying to figure out what about the design of the church was definitely Spanish – a square border, the corners of which all had squares in them, but which were definitely offset and not symmetrical, for example. 

The church also houses the tomb of Manuel de Falla, which is why there was a portrait of a musician, obvious because of the notation manuscripts around him in the painting.  “Falla?” said Greg.  “Does anyone know this musician?”

“Fie-ya,” I could hear the announcer on CBC saying.  But then I couldn’t remember if I should pair him up with the Firebird Suite or with something else.  Where, oh, where is the internet when I need it.  The same thing happened at lunch today.  We had brandied lattice cups that held lemon perrot.  I could identify the waffle-latticed cups but not the lemon perrot it held – this sharp delicious lemon flavoured confection, but what about it means perrot?  I will probably even have forgotten the question by the time I get back to my blessed internet.  I had no idea how many times a day I go to it to find out the answer to some question, which no longer burns in me when I have discovered the answer.

Greg left us to explore Cadiz on his own.  Ever since Italy he has been looking for a lemon pastry that escaped him there.  Wyona and I like to travel down the narrow old streets.  I had gone to the destination lecture about Cadiz and looked at the Port Explorer, published by the ship.  I had gone to sleep in the lecture, but I didn’t know if I was out for just a few seconds or for much longer.  I did remember enough that I could identify the 17th century stone walls, a spotted the Coastal Walking Path, located on the Atlantic side of Cadiz, and when we passed the Spanish Plaza, I could hear the words of the lecturer – “Every Spanish town has a main plaza.”  Wyona and I stood for a long time looking at the monuments, celebrating liberal assembly.  Burned into my brain was the man on the square who stood holding a long banner onto which these words were written:  all I want is what others have – a democracy to live in.  Living in one,  how often do I forget that others don’t have that.

Passenger watching.  That is what we do a lot of.  When I was first boarding I saw an old couple, dressed absolutely fit to kill.  Beautifully tailored cothes and I one point when I looked at the clothes carefully, it seemed he garments were hanging on skeletons.  Wyona saw the same couple often – they must be Celebrity Pinnacle Passengers, for they are always early to the theatre and get the reserved seats for people who have travelled with the line often, and always impeccably dressd – she with a lovely hat and matching coat; he with a tailored evening coat and a beautiful scarf at his neck.  Tehy are so old that the two hardly have any meat left on their bones.  I have no idea how they got their luggage on board for they look too fragile to even carry themselves along.”  Wyona pointed the woman out to me one night in a show.  There is a box of seats especially reserved for Platinum members (people who have cruised for over 80 days are diamond plus members and the platinums are above that).  This time the woman was wearing a sequined sparkling cap to die for, one like women wore in the days of the flappers.  The third time we saw them was at an elevator around lunchtime.  The woman had a hat on again, a beautiful rhinestone piece on its headband is what I was admiring.  The elevator came.  I saw someone gently take her shoulders, turn them 180 degrees and say softly in her ear, “The elevator is this way, dear.”  And then push her gently forward.  Then her husband, again in a lovely suit with a silk scarf at his neck, slowly tugged on her hand and she took tiny steps, barely staying upright, into the elevator. 

That is how long I want to cruise.  All the way until I don’t know which way to the elevator, though I still want to be able to put on a beautiful silk dress and hat to look good for that journey to the elevator.

A Sea Day

People laugh when I say that sea days are so busy that I don’t have time to eat.  Wyona and Greg don’t have time for it, either.  There is a destination lecture, a bridge lecture, a dance class, a lecture on historical events around the port we will be entering.  Then if I take a mile walk around the deck before all of this happens, and try to get to the evening entertaining – well, those days are exhausting. 

The Bridge Lectures are attended by the same group of people – the others meet again in the afternoon to practise their skills with duplicate bridge on each other. But Wyona and Greg go off to dance lessons instead. If Wyona does go to play, and Greg goes to dance alone, she ends up getting the high board points, but she claims the stress of having to do so well wears her out for the rest of the day. She comes back to the room, throws herself on the bed, and gives me strict instructions.  Vehemently she says, “Don’t ever let me go up there and play bridge again”.  Not believing I have that power, I have no idea what tools I am going to use to stop her.

Still, I am enjoying learning about the rule of 20, the rule of 15, the rule of 11 and the instructions on the four rules of what to lead should you get to play the first card.  “The gods of bridge will punish you if you don’t memorize these four leads,” the instructor said, looking up to the heavens. “And I mean it.  You will be punished.”

This threat scares me more than it scares Wyona.”

Bubble and Squeak

The menus are fascinating in the dining room.  We met one set of travelers, a man, his wife, her sister and a friend – something like our configuration, who told us they never go to the dining room.  Too rich for them, they said.  We tried to figure out if that meant there was too much fat in the foot – but that couldn’t be, given what we have seen in the ship’s buffet outlet, where they prefer to eat.   The day we spoke to them, we told them at on the menu was featuring British food.  Here is what the explanation on the menu said:  sausage, bacon, chicken, lamb, and bubble and squeak, all on the same plate.  Wyona ordered the dish.  I go with John Gilchrist's analysis of British Cuisine:  when you find a good restaurant for British cuisine, give him the name of it, and he will put it on the list of places he takes people when he does his courses on the cuisines of the world.  At any rate – what does too rich mean when we had read the day before, a dish that offered bacon, sausage and lamb, all on one side of a plate, vegetables on the other. We asked the waiter what bubble and squeak meant and he listed the vegetables that were being served that day, which explanation didn’t clarify what bubble and squeak really means.  But the traveling four (whom we met on a second floor shopping centre of Naples), told us exactly what bubble and squeak is.  You have thanksgiving dinner.  The next day you take all of the left-overs, put them in a pan on the top of the stove.  Stir it until it bubbles and squeaks and then eat it.
                                             
... another lovely evening on the Mediterranean ...
Most of the other days, the menu specializes in some food that one might find on shore.  

The dining room is decorated with rich dark mahogany wood trimming the walls, a scarlet colour on the walls, sconces giving ambient lighting between the windows that stretch out with a sea view, and sometimes at supper the boat is leaving, so we watch the sail out as we order from the menu.  

 I am not going to forget this when I get home, for this part of the trip is still amazing to me – night after night, food that I haven’t had to buy, prepare, serve or clean-up after.   

Every evening seems like a miracle.

Arta