Back in India

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.

Highlights in Brief

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.

Apple tart with whipped cream, and onion buns.

Spirits Rising

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.”

Atmospheric Psychedelia

For a’ That an’ a’ That

I love how the florist just used simple white daisies for 'garnish', letting the heather shine. To me this really reflects what I believe was Robbie Burns' personality.

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.

The Magic of Piobaireachd

This week-end marks the date for our annual Robbie Burns party, at which much scotch will be consumed and much bagpipe music played in honour of the Scottish bard.

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.