All creatures great and small

March 28, 2009

Sometimes, it is the small things in life which bring a pleasure of boundless measure. Sometimes, life allows you enough presence of mind to be able to decide that now you must look, you must stop and look. Look. Yonder in the field. Look. Did I expect to see a freshly dropped lamb fight to stand on four scrawny pegs?

I was looking to buy some sheep cheese. I noticed an ewe with a white bundle next to it but paid it no mind. At the farmhouse no sounds came back in response to my piercing whistling. I expected a Pyrenean sheepdog to take me by the throat but instead I got a peak into a small stockroom with dusty lonely cheeses.

Something amiss. Cheeses should not be gathering dust. I went back the way I came. I was not more than five minutes from spotting the ewe on my way in so I thought I should have a word with the wee beast. I stopped and noticed forthwith that the lump beside her was her lamb. It was perhaps no more than fifteen minutes old, with umbilical chord still attached. My pleasure was as immense as the ewes chary eye was wide.

Split to Croatia

February 21, 2009

The photo galleries for for this article can be found Trogir Split Dubrovnik.

If you were deaf and illiterate, you would be forgiven for believing you were in central Italy. Perhaps this is because the Italians held sway over this part of Europe for centuries.

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The Athenians

May 27, 2008

Before you get on the plane to Athens, don’t. Cancel your trip and rebook for somewhere else, anywhere. Athens is not a very nice place, Full stop. It is dirty, chock-a-block full of feral dogs, over-sensitive Greeks, spooky paired male types, trash, cockroaches, cars everywhere all the time – yes 24/7 – laconic yet surly taxi drivers, restaurateurs who cadge clients off the pavement with dubious tales of  sorrow or joy or both, hotels whose staff could out-basil  Basil (Fawlty) himself.

No, Athens is not for the faint hearted – what with the pollution, countless number of banana skins in the guise of dog doodoo, under taxed museum officios and prices which even off-put the Queen of Spain, your pumper will be tested to its limits.

Moreover, if you are the kind of tourist that dilly dallies, meandering here and there, gawping at every archaeological artifact the English and Germans have dug up for the Greeks,  be aware that Athenian dust  is so thick and vicious that you must not stand in the same spot more than 30 seconds. Cover your coffee – avoid Greek coffee which is really Turkish coffee but a tad more gritty –  when you sit at an outside taverna.

Although the vast area of Athens is architecturally nasty or uncritically stated, of no architectural value, it does have a few traditional hotspots. The most obvious are the historical monuments. Yes, these alone justify a trip to Athens. Yes, they are sufficient reward for the indignities one suffers at the hands of churlish cabbies. The museums are – and there are many –  worth the  throbbing feet. The most interesting must be the Byzantine and Christian Museum, a well-sized and well-designed museum. It goes without saying that the Acropolis is a must. Beware! it is under construction – that is to say cranes and scaffolding is everywhere. The crowds are polite, tight – sardines in a tin have more elbow room – and international. It is no longer the Germans scuffling with the Americans for space on the Acropolis parapets. Now you must contend with Thais, mainland Chinese, Poles, Malays, and even the odd Turk or two.

An interesting aside on the matter of cranes  at the Acropolis was told to us by a small shop owner (left). She allowed us to sit in front of the shop and drink the cold beers which she graciously sold us though she did tell us that it was illegal to drink them in or near the shop. But I understood the reason why she allowed us to sit about, pawing our Mythos, in front of her narrow shop, contravening city bylaws. Because it was a wee human moment, in which total strangers can meet each other and spontaneously be together to catch whatever fate throws at them. In this case it was the cranes towering below the Acropolis.

“A crane driver, a woman from Ukrania, the best crane driver in all Ukrania, it was she who moved very important historical columns to the new museum.”  The ferocious pride in the Ukranian woman crane operator’s skill  had become her own pride.

The Acropolis and the other pre-Christian era monuments are all worth the bother which comes with Athens. All the museums are worth a visit. Some of the neighbourhoods clad out for tourists is worth a visit but like any other traps beware that you can be snared you without warning. Inevitably, you will be snagged by an deft waiter who will have you seated before you realise that have just eaten somewhere very similar.

Athens is worth the effort. But be forewarned. It is a dirty, busy, car-riddled, dusty, polluted and expensive city. Do not pet the feral dogs. Do travel by underground and tram but be warned that Greeks understand English and are listening very attentively.

Athens has the trappings of all large western cities: krishna con men, romany beggars, dog doodoo, east African street merchants, and throngs of Japanese tourists. Most of these I can handle but it is also full of Athenians.

The people of …

May 26, 2008

One of the most interesting things in the natural world is the human face.  As human beings. we find the human face a magnet, stealing – not catching – our eye more than any other part of the human body. We look at an human face and make decisions about things we know are intangible yet very real. Stealing a quick look at someone’s face reveals love, hate, passion, sadness, health, even thoughts … and a lot more.

In my travels, I try to get faces in the lens but it is not always easy. Some people actually become shy when I point my camera lens in their direction. Yes, a few have become unpleasantly aggressive but most submit. Some even smile.

Greece, The Athenians

Portugal: the Micaelense of St Michael’s, Azores (will come soon)

The Swedes and Finns

There are presently no photos here. However I have an article on “Svenskar och finnar” The Swedes and Finns, alike yet strangely different.”


May 26, 2008

Are you keen on cycling then get on your bike and do the south French coast? Why not ramble in the Great Lakes region of East Africa? Perhaps you are hungry for a death march through the Outback. Let me know I may join you. In the meantime you might enjoy the pics I have taken on my journeys hither and thither. Only a few links (the menu above) are active. There is more to come.

The Azores

The Athenians

Anodyne Happy Holidays from Canada

December 16, 2007

It seems that Canada is moving ever closer to the secular paradise of non-believers, atheists, buggered humanists, amoral and immoral liberals, fagged-out leftists and schizophrenic agnostics. To be PC is so darn holy to the chattering classes of t his great country that even my own family members have fallen prey. Some of them have become finger-wagging  intolerant berks.

Christmas is the next victim of the holier-than-thou claque. In my youth, growing up in the Kensington market, what the new arrivals called the Jewish Market, Christmastime was just that. Our landlord, a rabbi, did not interject “Happy Hanukah” whenever a Merry Christmas was thrown his way. He smiled broadly when invited to inspect our manger scene. Even the synagogue on St Andrew Street put up a meek-ish ostentation by pinning something green at his doors. Today, we have turned away from the cheerful Merry Christmas to the innocuous “Happy Holidays”. Anodyne and irritating.

Watching Michael Coren on CTS cable network (Dec. 19) I began to appreciate that perhaps it is a conspiracy promulgated by the high and mighty like MacDonalds, the über-managers at the Gap, in cahoots with a multitude of national and multi-national firms which do not want to be seen to be pandering to the Christian majority – the same majority to which they belong, the same which spends the filthy lucre at their emporia. Why, you may well ask, the Christian element from Christmas? Clearly, their businesses might well belly flop with too much Christian content. But I wonder if the lowly small café down the street is in on the same conspiracy. The owner goes to the same church as I do but, yes, Happy Holidays on the front window. No, I suspect it is a much deeper process going on in North America and indeed the industrialized west. One theory may well be that the very processes set in motion by the Renaissance and French Revolution – the very same processes’s which shape our world view are, unfortunately the same processes which are helping us devour ourselves. We are the Ouroboros.

Perhaps the reason the Christmas is going the way of the dodo is because of the myriad of incredibly aggravating apologists like Marilyn Churley,(1) a former cabinet minister in one provincial government or other is to blame. She blames the Christians themselves for all the ills of mankind. Everyone, according to her, born after Christ, and carrying a cross around his neck, is in league with the devil. OK, perhaps I have injected a little too much intelligence in her thought process but the thing is that her anti-Christian bias is shared by well meaning social activists who shed crocodile tears whenever they see a child from a Muslim family subjected to onslaughts of “Merry Christmas” from his Christian classmates. Insensitive, you bet. The children, I mean. Let’s not ponce about – children are a mean savages, and most especially Christian children.

But back to the likes of Marilyn (may I be this familiar?) She claims that we have brought it on ourselves, what with all the raping and pillaging we have done since the time of my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great -great -great -great grandfathers. She, in her twit-ish twitter means that because Christians have been raping and pillaging non-Christians and other-Christians alike, immediately after the death of Christ, have no one but ourselves to blame for this anti-Christmas backlash.

As Mr Coren rightly points out – she is free to verbalize her petty and indeed incomplete thoughts, precisely because Christianity gave birth to the society in which she lives, the same society which permits her the freedom to express herself publicly – no matter how silly she sounds. This is the same religion which has taught me to turn the other cheek when the Churleys of this world slap me hard. She has a point though, the Christianized west is very much an Ouroboros?

The anti-Christmas hysteria took on a new twist yesterday when a teacher in Ottawa managed to dislodge the word “Christmas” from a Christmas carol because she, in her unfathomable wisdom, thought it might offend the other non-Christian children in her class. The Ottawa School Board was quick to point out on national television that Christmas was indeed alive and well in Ottawa schools but was quick to add as was all other faith-holidays. My comforting words to the teacher are: chins up – you were born in the wrong place and time – had this been post WWII Russia, you would have received a medal of some kind from the Ministry of Pravda.

Frankly, I have not noticed this anti-Christmas backlash (probably because I live in northern Europe) simmering in North America. Sure I notice that every time I come back to visit family, how Christmas is not what it use to be.Then again, nothing is.

Unfortunately, public agencies too are out to remove Christianity form Christmas. A few days ago, my inattention turned to irritation when, during the CBC broadcast on Radio 2, a singer belted out a well  known Christmas Carol which has never included “Happy Hanukah” as part of the libretto – until then. This programme featured Christmas concerts from several European countries and Canada. As you might have guessed, the Europeans put forward and true formulae of religious music with a few good does of Bach and Händel. The odd man out was Canada with a collection of Christmas carols in a modern jazzy rendition with a flair of a je ne sais quoi. Fair enough and well-meaning, no doubt. However the singer’s forceful rendition were meant to highlight that Canucks are not high-brow Alleluia Chorus ponce Europeans – nay, we are a peace-loving, multi-cultural, racially harmonious hyphenated citizenry which is firmly  entrenched in the present globalized world with no time for the sentimental claptrap of the distant past. No, unlike the Europeans, we are not stuck in the baroque world of Händel. My question to the CBC though is: do Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, or pagans, for that matter, interpolate Christian text into their music – for the sake of keeping Christians sweet?

Emasculating our own beliefs and traditions -the phrase “cut off your nose to spite your face” comes to mind – is not the way to show our respect to non-Christians.  Muslims did not come to Canada because they thought, “Gosh, gee, that will be a good place to emigrate to because Canada is good Muslim god-fearing country, full of mosques and …oh shops are closed on Friday and oh..oh … they use the Muslim calendar…” Jews did not come to Canada with the conspiratorial aim of transforming this into a second land of David. They all came here with eyes open. I suspect that they even like the fact that this is (or was) a Christian country where they have are free to bow to their own god without fear.

Maybe we should just get rid of Christmas. It will avoid all this embarrassment and hand-wringing at this time of the year. Non-Christians and those who feel guilty about being born into a Christian family will have no reason to feel left out. Then there would be no danger of offending anyone, including especially, ourselves. Oh, the children. Bah, humbug. Ah well, they will get over it. All you have to do is sing them a ditty : “You better not pout, you better not cry.”

For my part I say, have a Merry Christmas(1), a Happy Christmas, a joyous Christmas! Celebrate the true meaning of this gladsome festival. Lest you have forgotten; Christmas is the celebration of Christ’ birth in the tiny village of Bethlehem – the same Christ who came to save wretches like you and me.

And remember that Christmas is indeed about faith, hope and charity.


(1) She brought to mind the old phrase: one brick short of a outside loo.

(2) Christmas is a contraction of Christ’s Mass, Middle English, Christemasse and Old English Cristes mæsse

Air Canada Farce

November 16, 2007

I would suggest that anyone flying anywhere, anytime, avoid Air Canada. I know that it is difficult to actually decide on which airline you fly what with all the Dazzling Allies, Me First, Bugger You airline alliances, the gap between your decision and what you get are kettles of a different fish. My advice is that whenever the name Air Canada drifts into earshot, then head for say, Lufthansa. No, that may be tricky because, if like me, you are flying off to Canada, then booking a flight with Lufthansa or even SAS may, I should say, will, eventually, get you a seat on an Air Canada plane. I could have avoided the whole mess if I had booked a direct flight with Finnair but then it is the kind of airline that charges because it believes itself to be better than the other airlines though in actual fact it is no better and perhaps even a lot less than say, BA. This is called branding.

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