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Last night we went to a neighbour’s house for an East Indian meal, after which time they showed us photos from their recent trip to India. It seems several lifetimes ago since Joe and I were there (it was 27 years ago!) but some of those pictures brought it all back…the complexity of this amazing country with its striking contrast between rich and poor, beauty and squalor, new and old. It certainly wasn’t the easiest country to be in at times, but I’m so glad I had the opportunity to spend some time there.
What I’m reading: “Beyond Belfast: A 560-Mile Walk Across Northern Ireland on Sore Feet” by Will Ferguson.
What I’m listening to: “Songs From a World Apart” by Levon Minassian and Armand Amar. It’s Armenian music – some of the saddest melodies I’ve ever heard, and some of the most beautiful.
What I’m cooking: onion buns and tarte tatin. They are my contributions to a dinner party we are attending tonight. I’m not too sure about the apple tart. To attempt to make this quintessential French dessert for a couple of French men makes me either very brave or very stupid! I’ll let you know how it turns out.
Later: the results, as per Lucca’s request. The colour in the photo is a bit off…in real life they have a bit more of a golden colour on them. But you get the idea. At least I didn’t have quite as much trouble with mine as Julia Child did with hers. Love her attitude though.
January typically leaves me in a bit of a funk. The dark; the cold…it’s just not my cup of tea I’m afraid. But I can now literally see light at the end of the tunnel. The amount of daylight now compared to a few weeks ago is very noticeable. And as the light grows outside, my spirits lighten and brighten inside. This beautiful photo, taken by David Cartier, depicts my mood today perfectly. I love that he describes this “like being inside a lava lamp looking out.”
With about 25 people for dinner last night I didn’t get a chance to take any photos…just one of the beautiful table arrangement that was a late Christmas present from a dear friend. So here instead is one of my favourite Burns’ poems:
IS THERE FOR HONEST POVERTY
Is there for honest poverty
That hings his head, an’ a’ that?
The coverward slave, we pass him by–
We dare be poor for a’ that!
Our toils obscure, an’ a’ that,
The rank is but the guinea’s stamp,
The man’s the gowd for a’ that.
What though on hamely fare we dine.
Wear hoddin grey, an’ a’ that?
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine..
A man’s a man for a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
Their tinsel show, an’ a’ that,
The honest man, tho’ e’er sae poor,
Is king o’ men for a’ that.
Ye see yon birkie ca’d “a lord,”
What struts, an’ stares, an’ a’ that?
Tho’ hundreds worship at his word,
He’s but a cuif for a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
His ribband, star, an’ a’ that,
The man o’ independent mind,
He looks an’ laughs at a’ that.
A prince can mak a belted knight,
A marquis, duke, an’ a’ that!
But an honest man’s aboon his might–
Guid faith, he mauna fa’ that!
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
Their dignities, an’ a’ that,
The pith o’ sense an’ pride o’ worth
Are higher rank than a’ that.
Then let us pray that come it may
(As come it will for a’ that)
That Sense and Worth o’er a’ the earth
Shall bear the gree an’ a’ that!
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
It’s comin yet for a’ that,
That man to man the world o’er
Shall brithers be for a’ that.
From where I sit, the marches, strathspeys, reels, hornpipes and jigs heard erupting from most bagpipes today are all well and good. However it’s the ancient classical music of the pipes, a form known as piobaireachd (pronounced pee-brock), that touches that “beyond time and space” place deep inside of me.
Piobaireachd is a very old style of theme and variation in which a melody (called the “urlar” in Gaelic where it means “ground”, as in most basic part) is played followed by variations of increasing difficulty. It’s only recently that the music was written down…traditionally it was passed from teacher to student orally. To look at the score is to leave the uninitiated thoroughly puzzled, since there is no time signature and no continuous lines, but rather just ‘snatches’ of notes to indicate how the piece might be played. My understanding is that a piper still needs a teacher to learn this music, and Joe was lucky to have had one of the best teachers in Canada. Jimmy McMillan was a sweetheart who taught world champions but who took a liking to Joe and decided to work with him on this classical music.
Apart from the music itself, the stories about which the music was written make for some wonderful telling. For instance, Joe plays a tune called MacKintoch’s Lament. The story goes that this piece was written about a clan chief who had a fine black stallion. The chief’s wedding day was approaching when the prancing stallion caused an old woman to be unceremoniously pushed into a ditch along the road. The old crone cursed the chief and said the horse would be the death of him.
On the morning of his wedding, the clan chief remembered her words, and decided to play it safe. He shot the stallion and left it dead on the side of the road. Then he proceeded to the church with a more sedate mount. While returning home after the ceremony, the more sedate horse reared as they passed the dead stallion, throwing the chief and killing him. The bride was thus maiden, bride and widow all in one day. She composed this lament and is said to have sung it as the coffin was carried to the graveyard, marking time on the coffin lid with her hands. This marking of time can be heard in the piece.
There is a version of this tune on YouTube in two parts…here and here. This music won’t be for everyone, so be forewarned. I’ve heard some complain there’s no music to it at all. But personally I find it impossible not to be affected by this haunting piece of audio.
Here’s another photo that a former CBC colleague sent me. Man I look like a baby here!!
A friend just sent me this link. Fascinating!
Coincidently, I was reading the other day that science is taking a fresh look at LSD. Researchers claim there is evidence the drug can help cure everything from cluster headaches to depression.
Spent the afternoon out of town, helping a co-worker, her husband and her father clear some brush on what someday will be their farm. It’s an 88-acre lot – completely forest covered at this point – and they plan to do much of the clearing by hand, salvaging everything they can for fence posts, lumber, firewood, etc. It may sound like slow going, but actually we made decent progress today. It was satisfying work too…good, honest, physical labour. Sure beats going to the gym and running on a treadmill to nowhere!
For a very long time, chili has been a mainstay of my diet. Not when I was a kid…my father wasn’t keen on anything that reminded him of the meals he ate while in the Air Force, so my mother never made it. But certainly once I left home it was perfect for a starving student’s budget. When I lived in Iqaluit, my Saturday morning routine (at least in the winter) was to get up early, head off to the Hunters and Trappers store for my weekly supply of caribou and char, and come back to make either a big pot of stew or chili and a couple of loaves of bread.
Nowadays I don’t have to go any further than my freezer for the meat. Sometimes it’s caribou. Sometimes it’s moose. On rare occasion it’s bison. Today it was moose. And I decided to experiment. Instead of cooking it in a pot as I usually do, I browned the meat in my dutch oven, added all the rest of the ingredients, and put it in a very slow oven for a few hours. For the last 20 minutes I bumped up the heat and added a chili cornbread topping. Yum! Perhaps even my dad would have eaten this.
I am itching to travel again. This feeling strikes me every several months or so and this time it’s particularly strong.
However the year is somewhat up in the air. If our youngest graduates I have promised him a trip somewhere, but I suspect he will have to put in an extra semester, so that travel will likely be delayed until next year. Joe and I have talked about doing a walking or biking trip in Ireland, but that too is uncertain, what with Joe’s mom’s health (although down to about 85 pounds she remains in good spirits and still is in no pain – remarkable!).
So for now, I’m just going to have to be content as an armchair traveller. Sigh.
I’m a bit slow off the mark in terms of writing a New Year’s posting. I hope 2011 is starting off in the best way possible for all of you.
Since year-end always brings with it a certain amount of reflection on what has been, I thought I’d spend a few minutes jotting down some thoughts about 2010; specifically regarding what bits of knowledge or wisdom managed to seep into my feeble brain. So here are five things I learned over the past 12 months:
1. Letting go: I spent a great deal of time in 2010 trying to just ‘let go’, particularly when it came to my kids. Time and time again I had to tell myself that I needed to back off and allow them to learn from their own actions. No matter that I fear that at least one of them is going down a path that will cause them pain or difficulty. I have to trust that they will all find their final and proper destinations in the end, regardless of how many twists there will be in the road or how rugged the terrain. “Motherhood” and “letting go” are not two phrases that easily go hand in hand for me, so I’ve struggled with this. Hopefully I made some gains in 2010.
2. You don’t need much: My time on the Camino was a reminder to me that we really need very little in terms of material goods. A warm and dry place to sleep, a full belly, a decent pair of walking shoes and a change of clothes. It’s too bad we choose to clutter our homes and lives with so much more than that.
3. Love and kindness are all that really matter: Again, this is something that I knew but needed to be reminded of on the Camino.
4. I am a farmer: Even though it’s not my occupation, it is something that is a fundamental part of who I am. I guess I have suspected this for a while but came to know it with certainty in 2010.
5. I can stand on my head: Odd, but I learned that I love standing on my head and try to do it for at least a minute or two every day. Turning my body upside down tends to give me a different perspective, in more ways than one.