Sunday, March 27, 2016

From bruschetta to gelato — a Mediterranean feel to Easter

Back in the early '80s, I was driving in my car in Fredericton, NB, when a commercial came on the radio. (My car didn't have an FM band so I couldn't listen to CBC.) The commercial said, "Only two days left to do your Easter shopping!"

I said, "Huh? How long can it take to buy a chocolate bunny and a bag of Cadbury's eggs?"

I did a commentary for CBC about the very odd concept of "Easter shopping." It was the first time I had ever heard of such a thing and judging by the reaction of my radio listeners, it was an unknown idea to them too.

Today, in 2016, I saw someone on Twitter say he'd been looking at friends' photos on Facebook and he was amazed at how much kids get for Easter. He said it looked like another Christmas.

It's not only Easter. All the "holidays" have become much more elaborate and complicated than they used to be and it's all centred on one thing: buying more stuff.

Valentine's Day, Canada Day, Hallowe'en, Thanksgiving — all now involve extravagant decorations, a special menu, lots and lots of advertising to get you out to the stores.

Easter remains a religious observance for us and a time to have friends over for a somewhat traditional dinner. But I admit, we've fallen into the new trend a bit also.

We don't decorate as sumptuously as we do at Christmas but truth is, I don't remember that we ever did decorations for Easter when I was a child. I think we coloured eggs but they were probably hard-boiled and we'd eat them later. We always got a small wicker basket from the Easter Bunny and maybe a small gift. I remember one year getting a pair of red sandals. I remember them so clearly that they must have been an unusual and unexpected gift.

The other vivid memory I have of Easter is going to church on Easter Sunday morning, always with a new outfit, little white gloves, maybe a new hat and tiny purse — and possibly, brand new red sandals.

Easter 2016

Dan was — as always — in charge of decorating. He's the best at it. Over a week ago, he cut a few branches of forsythia in the back yard. By Saturday, the flowers had burst open and although they looked nice as they were, a few eggs just added to their charm. (I remind you every so often to click on the pictures to get the full effect.)

He took this one with a flash because of the bright window behind. It made a rather beautiful effect:

Dan also took care of the table:

He coloured some new eggs this year. The ones I had done several years ago were getting a little tired, as I wrote about here.

I took care of the food. Eggs are, of course, an Easter staple and I always make devilled eggs. Which I did again. I also made a garlicky, basil, tomato bruschetta:

When we gathered at the table we had a traditional leg of lamb, rubbed with garlic, lemon, rosemary and a fig mustard:

Because we can never decide whether to have lamb or ham, we decided to have both.

The best thing about our meat dishes is that they come from our farmer, Cheryl Williams, at Shani's Farm. The meat is organic, free-range, local — and we buy it from Cheryl in a face-to-face transaction. As an extra added bonus, the meat is really really good.

The accompaniments were a Caesar salad (with bacon bits also from Cheryl's farm) and a mélange of roasted veg: red and purple fingerling potatoes, carrots, parsnips, Brussels sprouts, onions and broccoli, all tossed in a sauce based on grainy mustard, olive oil, garlic, lemon zest and oregano. (I steamed the broccoli florets and put them in just before serving to make a nice bright green addition.)

It seems like a lot of food but interestingly enough, it was a satisfying dinner but no one felt stuffed. For dessert, we had a few treats and then, because there was a little Mediterranean feel about it all, we had a limoncello gelato.

The very best thing about our Easter dinner was that we three were joined by our dear friends, Lynn, Ann and Claude. And we didn't take any photos of them! They probably would have objected anyway.

Next time, I promise.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Liven up your toast with whiskey and ginger marmalade!

We bought a fairly good supply of Seville oranges and I made one batch of marmalade which I told you about here. Dan took over for the second batch.

His method was different from mine. I took all the coloured peel off using a vegetable peeler and made sure I didn't get any of the white pith. The pith, along with the seeds, went into a cheesecloth bag and was suspended into the juice and peel.

The combination of peel, pith and seeds was supposed to provide enough natural pectin to thicken my marmalade. You may remember that I had to add some Cert-o to get it to thicken up.

Dan's recipe didn't divide the orange up in the same way. He squeezed out the juice, removed some of the thicker membrane and chopped the peel, pith and all.

That's a bottle of Jameson's Irish whiskey. He wasn't drinking it. It was waiting to be part of the recipe — whiskey and candied ginger.

His required quite a lengthy period of boiling. It was different from mine, even at this stage.

As I had, he cooked and cooked, stirred and stirred, tested and tested. He used the small-cold-plate-in-the-freezer method as well but the marmalade still wasn't thickening. We even found a candy thermometer that we hadn't seen for years in the bottom of the "miscellaneous drawer" and he used that to cook to what should have been the right temperature for it to thicken. No luck though.

In the end, he resorted to the same solution I had: hello, Cert-o. He stirred in a bit and presto — a lovely thick preserve. He added the whiskey and the ginger and pretty soon, it was ready for the bottles.

His recipe made a little more than mine and there was a bit left over to use as a tester. It's very delicious. Marmalade, by its very nature and by definition, is tart and bitter but this one is even moreso. The oranges make it tart; the whiskey and the ginger make it sharp and bitter.

It sure can liven up a piece of toast.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

When years of carnage turn into decades

When we heard the news from Brussels, our first thoughts were for Dan's brother John and our beloved sister-in-law, Ilse. Ilse grew up in a small town near Antwerp and she and John now live in Antwerp. Belgium is a small country though and Brussels is less than an hour from their Antwerp home.

John and his business partner travel a lot and the Brussels airport is a regular part of their working life. Thankfully, our family and friends in Belgium are safe.

This brings the Brussels tragedy close to home for us. Paris too — not because we have family there but we do know people who live there and we've been there not that long ago ourselves. It hits us a little harder because we know the streets and the landscapes and the people's routines.

We need to be reminded though that tragedies like these play out every day in places that don't get the same attention as Paris and Brussels. The big headlines are saved for our big familiar cities and somewhere on page seven, we see the news from more distant lands.

After the attack on Brussels, someone somewhere made this little meme which turned up on Facebook from several different sources. If I knew who made it, I'd be haapy to give credit but I don't. One person who shared it noted that Baghdad was spelled wrong and that San Diego was used instead of San Bernardino. With those two corrections in mind, the information here is worth considering:

Thinking about this took me back to September 11, 2001. As many people do, I remember where I was and what I was doing when the airplanes hit the twin towers in New York. I saw the second one hit the building live on television. I spent the next several days watching TV, listening to radio, reading newspapers soaking up every detail of an attack that was closer to home than we were used to.

A few days after the attack, I managed to find one of the last copies of the black-covered New Yorker on local newsstands.

I read almost everything in that issue but I was particularly struck by the Talk of the Town near the front of the magazine — a series of short essays by writers who had been in New York on that fateful Tuesday. There were contributions from John Updike, Jonathan Franzen, Denis Johnson, Roger Angell, Aharon Appelfeld, Rebecca Mead, Susan Sontag, Amitav Ghosh, and Donald Antrim.

They're all worth reading but after all these years, there's one paragraph that has stayed with me and that I've quoted several times, often on the anniversary of September 11. It's from the essay by Denis Johnson, a writer who in the years preceding 2001 had reported from Somalia, Afghanistan, the southern Philippines, Liberia — among other so-called "hot spots" around the world. He writes that he wondered what it would be like if he had to do such reporting in his own land, how he would feel and react. And here he was, after seeing and hearing and writing about so much horror in other parts of the world, experiencing the violence and suffering and carnage here at home.

It was his last paragraph that has haunted me all these years:

On Thursday, as I write in New York City, which I happened to be visiting at the time of the attack, the wind has shifted, and a sour electrical smoke travels up the canyons between the tall buildings. I have now seen two days of war in the biggest city in America. But imagine a succession of such days stretching into years — years in which explosions bring down all the great buildings, until the last one goes, or until bothering to bring the last one down is just a waste of ammunition. Imagine the people who have already seen years like these turn into decades — imagine their brief lifetimes made up only of days like these we’ve just seen in New York.

The very thought of it breaks my heart. "Imagine a succession of such days stretching into years . . ."

If you want to read the whole Talk of the Town, you can find it here.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

A loaf of bread, the Walrus said, is what we chiefly need*

Bread has a long and interesting history and I don't mean just at my house. It's been around for thousands of years in various forms and it's one of the foods that is found in every culture.

I'm one of the people who really likes bread. I would be terribly disappointed if something happened that prevented me from eating a bit of bread at least once a day.

It's interesting that such a simple food can occur in such variety. Unless you get fancy, for a leavened bread there are six basic ingredients: flour, water, salt, oil, yeast and sugar. Mix them together in a certain way and they make magic.

I made some bread yesterday:

This recipe is called "Crusty French Bread" and that's how it turned out. It's pretty good — I like it better very lightly toasted. It seems to bring out a bit more flavour. But is is crusty and it has a nice chewy texture. It's the first time I've made this particular recipe.

I have most often made what we think of in our culture as a "traditional" bread — but of course in every culture, the go-to bread is "traditional" as far as they're concerned.

But this is what I mean by "traditional":

I've written about bread before — right here and I went into more detail about this very bread and its history with me.

Another bread I occasionally make is Chef Chuck Hughes no-knead bread. It's fast and delicious and sometimes, that's just what we're looking for.

I probably wouldn't have taken a photo except one of the most recent times I made this bread, it came out looking like a pound cake. It's one of the breads that turns our differently every time you make it. I don't know why. Atmospheric conditions?

We only eat bread with a certain kind of meal but I do enjoy a piece of toast with my morning coffee and the occasional sandwich. I do like to think of it as the staff of life.

*From The Walrus and The Carpenter by Lewis Carroll.

Monday, March 21, 2016

We have come quite a long way

A couple of years ago, I was having an on-line discussion about feminism with someone I'd never met. Her name was Susan. She wasn't a very pleasant person and she was also someone who held views that I just found hard to take.

She didn't believe that feminism — the movement — had improved anyone's life. She insisted that it hadn't had any effect on her life. (She's a woman in her 40s.) She said she had a university education, a post-graduate degree, a husband, and she had the beginning of a potentially successful career when she decided to stay home and raise her children.

Look at me, she pretty much shouted. I've got it all and feminism didn't do it. I did it myself.

But feminism has affected Susan's life and it seems shocking to me that in this day and age, she honestly didn't seem to know that.

I saved my response to her declaration that feminism did nothing for her life. This is what I said:

Susan, your life is so immeasurably better because of feminism. Not very long ago, in my lifetime, women had few rights. A couple of examples: in my first career (I’m a writer/editor now), I was a nurse. I, and my fellow nurses, used to spend countless hours on the phone looking for husbands/fathers who may have abandoned their family years before — or who were simply not in the picture any more. We needed them to give consent for their wives or children to have life-saving therapy — even emergency surgery.

I have clear memories of standing by with a woman who’s already prepped, anaesthetist at the ready, surgeon scrubbed, while we frantically followed leads all over the country looking for that elusive consent from some long-gone husband.

If we didn’t find him — and if she had no adult male family member — we had to call the Chief Surgeon who would come to the hospital, review the efforts we had made to find the husband, and then sign the consent form.

Susan, women could not consent to their own surgery!

Women couldn’t get bank loans or mortgages on their own. If they didn’t have a husband, a father or brother might be able to help out but there was no guarantee.

These were LAWS that feminists fought to get changed — not attitudes. It was certainly socially accepted that husbands could beat or rape their wives — but it was also LEGAL.

You have a post-graduate degree but a generation before you, there was a quota on the number of women accepted into graduate programs. Believe me, you didn't get that Master's degree on your own.

Women did get fired for becoming pregnant — in some positions, they’d get fired for getting married. And contrary to an often-expressed anti-feminist notion: feminism doesn’t automatically admire or honour women who succeed in the corporate world. It depends a lot on what they do with the power they may hold. In my feminist world there has always been more emphasis on putting value on “women’s work.” Feminism does recognize the work of mothers, teachers, nurses, the CWL or the Women’s Institute etc. a lot more than such jobs were ever recognized pre-feminism.

Susan, you refer to “feminists” as if legions of women of all different ages, interests, political beliefs, sexuality must all hold the exact same opinions on everything if they self-identify as feminist.

I've been an active feminist for decades now; I know and have known feminists in the professions, in academia, in high school, in minimum wage jobs — many of them would not recognize themselves as they’re portrayed in this discussion.

Feminism is a big world. It has benefitted — and continues to benefit — all of us, women, men and children. And yes, Susan, that includes you.

I didn't convince her, of course. I didn't really expect to. I don't usually have this discussion with women who reject feminism — especially young women. I know that life will be more convincing that I can be and it's usually just a matter of time. I only talked about it with Susan because she was older and I found it hard to believe that she really thought she got to where she is on her own.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

The joys of Easter and the rites of Spring

The caption on this picture says, "Sharon and baby screen-saver, Easter 2014." So that was two years ago and you'd be amazed how much my desk today looks just like this. A couple of small differences but not many. There's nothing to identify it as an Easter picture except the caption but I'll take it at its word.

I was looking at Easter photos to get my thoughts in order for a quickly approaching Easter 2016. I found pictures of the eggs I decorated in 2010.

They're not very nice but as with so many other things, if you make them part of a bigger picture, they can look quite lovely:

Those eggs were punctured on both ends and had the innards blown out of them. That was fun. I think I may have to do it again and colour some more eggs this year.

The 2010 eggs are still in use though. This was 2014:

Junior always enjoys settling in on a festive table and didn't mind sharing with the eggs and the bunny:

Some things are part of Easter every year. We always cut a branch of forsythia and bring it into the house about a week before Easter (depending on when Easter is, of course.) If our timing is right on, the forsythia rewards us on Easter Day:

We always bring home a beautiful Easter lily:

We always have some devilled eggs (and lots of other good things too — that's smoked salmon with a bit of herbed cream cheese and cucumber):

We're Catholic so we do a lot of Church as well and we manage to reconcile the bunnies and the eggs with the greatest feast of Christianity. We accept that a lot of what we celebrate are the pagan rites of Spring (and we often celebrate them in the snow) but just as Santa and the elves are happily bound together with the birth of the baby Jesus, so do all the signs and symbols of Easter — pagan and otherwise — make for a joyful and traditional festival.

It all gets underway this coming week!

Friday, March 18, 2016

Love and s*x on TV: bringing the chemistry

This picture is of Alicia Florrick and Will Gardner (Julianna Margulies and Josh Charles) from The Good Wife. When these two were in a room together, the heat that was generated was so overpowering, it's a wonder the sprinklers didn't come on. I'm naming them the couple with the best chemistry in some of the recent television programs.

Where does that chemistry come from? Is it just great acting? Is it great writing? Does it depend on how the actors feel about each other and about the characters they're playing?

I have these questions because I've been watching a TV series where I find a lack of chemistry. It's a little disappointing because it's a character-driven show and without the chemistry, there's a let-down.

I chose Alicia and Will but there are other recent couples who sizzle when they're together. How about Noah and Alison (Dominic West and Ruth Wilson) from The Affair?

There's always a risk for a television program to allow the passionate couple to consummate their relationship too early because the theory is that once the sexual tension is gone, the viewers will lose interest.

It wasn't easy for Alicia and Will. They had gone to law school together and had feelings for each other back then. Somehow, things didn't work out and by the time they meet again, Will is a named partner in a big firm and he hires Alicia who has been home raising her two children and standing by her sleazy husband who is now in jail.

So Will is her boss, she has a husband (in prison) and two teenaged children. Although the sparks are evident, it takes 46 episodes to get to the scene that's depicted in the photo above.

The Affair is a little different although the barriers are no less daunting for the lovers. Noah and Alison are both married. Noah, an author with one published book and a teaching job, has four children. His family is mainly supported by his wife's wealthy father. Alison is married and struggling with the recent loss of her only child. She works in a restaurant which is where she meets Noah and his family when they come in for a meal.

The picture above is shortly after they met but look at them: you can see where this is headed. There's also the name of the program, of course, which is a pretty big hint.

But I still haven't answered my own question of where the chemistry comes from.

One of the series I watched is called Covert Affairs — (not that kind of affairs.) It's a CIA show and the main character is Annie Walker. Annie is an agent and her handler is Auggie Anderson. Auggie is blind — he lost his sight in an IED explosion in Iraq — but he knows everything technological and he has what one of the TV critics called "Super Blind Man Skillz." Here are Auggie and Annie (Christopher Gorham and Piper Perabo):

They had good chemistry and a really sweet affectionate relationship and it eventually became a romance. I'm assuming that the ratings went down because a few episodes later, they decided that it was better not to mix business with sex and they went back to being agent and handler. As the show went on, Annie became involved with another fellow and here, I found no chemistry at all. I kept saying, "Why are you with him?" No matter how many romantic things he did or how many times they ended up in the sack, it just didn't ring true.

I can see a lot of the problems with moving relationships along. There's so much more scope for drama in the leading-up-to, the anticipation of a passionate interlude. But really, after it happens, what then? In many of these shows, adding a domestic element wouldn't work so what do you do with them after that?

There are mixed reviews about what happened with one of the more popular romances in a comedy. Jim and Pam (John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer) in The Office shared a much-awaited climactic kiss at the end of the second season and kept viewers on the edge of their seats throughout the following summer.

There was only one barrier but it was a big one. The Office was a much more innocent show that the others under discussion and the fact that Pam was engaged to someone else when she kissed Jim was quite shocking.

The mixed reviews are about what followed. In time, Pam broke off with the other guy, was wooed by Jim, became pregnant, got married, went on maternity leave, came back to work etc. etc. The old excitement wasn't there and even when they tried to resurrect it by causing a rift in the marriage and then bringing the lovers back together, it wasn't — it could never be — the same. Just like in a real marriage, most of the critics agreed.

So I think I've established that there needs to be some realistic barriers to a romance for the chemistry to be established. There probably does have to be some connection between the actors in real life. And maybe the most important thing is, the actors have to believe in their characters.

Maybe, as always, it comes back to the writers.

P.S. Just to round out the line-up, here are a couple more well-known couples. I have nothing to say about them that hasn't been said a million times but I hope you'll feel free to add a narrative of your own if you have something to add.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The food of the Mediterranean: classic and delicious

The last cookbook story I wrote was about my introduction to Chinese cooking — my TV relationship with Chef Martin Yan and my plunge into the complicated world of Chinese cuisine as taught at the California Culinary Academy.

I love Chinese cooking and I still do it a lot but there came a day when I admitted to myself that my heart is really in Mediterranean cooking. It's the style that comes naturally to me and I'm never happier when I have good olive oil, garlic, tomatoes, oregano, basil, anchovies, and a wedge of Parmigiano Reggiano sitting on my counter, awaiting their instructions.

I first went to Spain back in the 1970s. Life was very different then. Food and cooking and eating had not evolved in Canada to where it is now so encountering the sights and smells and tastes and the food in Spain was much more exotic then than it would be to travellers today. In restaurants, all the tables had cruets of oil and vinegar and as soon as you sat down, even before a menu, you were served a beautiful crisp salad which you dressed yourself — just a toss with that beautiful olive oil and vinegar and what a salad!

All the food was memorable but the tapas custom soon becomes everyone's favourite. Because the Spaniards don't sit down to eat dinner until 10:00 p.m., they need a little something to tide them over and that's where the tapas come in — delectable small servings of delicious foods, hot or cold, mostly but not exclusively eaten with the fingers or speared with a toothpick.

They're usually eaten standing at the bar with a glass of wine. There's a vast display behind the bar and the bartender will hand you a small saucer and you choose your own — in some cases, the bartender will serve you. I remember small plates of potato salad dressed in a very egg-y, lemon-y mayonnaise and of course, plates and plates of seafood: shrimp, scallops, calamares, mussels, sardines. And bites of chicken, chorizo, serrano ham, meatballs. Chunks of roasted peppers, cauliflower, mushrooms. And more varieties of olives than you knew existed.

Part of the enjoyment of that kind of eating is the atmosphere — the noise and excitement and the crowds. But the food is so good, you do want to duplicate it.

Years after I was first in Spain, Valerie gave me a cookbook for my birthday:

It's a cookbook of glossy pages and beautiful colour photos. It demands that you head to the kitchen and start cooking. I've made many snacks from this book but as I'm looking at it now, I realize happily, I still have a lot of recipes to enjoy from this one. On my list.

I had already been converted to Italian cuisine, long before my first trip to Italy. Italian does seem to be at the top of the pecking order of cuisines — although I suppose the French and the Chinese would dispute that. Italian chefs — Lidia Bastianich, Mary Ann Esposito, Nick Stellino, and many others — dominate PBS cooking shows and the Food Network. And non-Italians occasionally become famous for leaning toward Italian cooking: Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray of London's River Café, and Jamie Oliver — just to name a few.

I have lots of cookbooks devoted to Italian cooking but what could beat this one:

Dan gave me this one and any book that has the number 1000 right on the cover has to be taken seriously. One thousand is a lot of recipes. The titles of all the recipes are in Italian — there are translated sub-titles — and some of them take me right to hillside village streets where I've never been: salami and caper tart; sausage and prosciutto with potato, pork with tomatoes and onions, liver soufflé, saffron pancakes with mussels.

As with the tapas book, I still have plenty of recipes to try out of this one.

I'm afraid I complain quite a lot about being in a cooking rut but it looks as if it's my own fault. A quick trip through either of these books should solve that.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Michael Moore: Picking the flowers, not the weeds

I enjoyed Michael Moore's newest film Where To Invade Next as I always enjoy his films. He's funny and he's very political; he's frank and open and wears his politics on his sleeve and that's one of the things that makes him likable — even, I'm told, by people who don't agree with his politics. I do agree with his politics so that makes it doubly enjoyable for me.

The movie shows Michael being summoned to Washington, DC by the Joint Chiefs of Staff so they can ask his advice. They tell him that all their wars since World War II have been disastrous and they don't know what move to make next.

Michael responds by offering himself up as a one-man army who will “invade countries populated by Caucasians whose names I can mostly pronounce, take the things we need from them, and bring them back home to the United States of America."

So off he goes.

He visited a number of countries to look at how they manage certain social programs which are dismal failures in the US.

He goes to Italy where a very attractive fit couple talk to him about their paid vacations (eight weeks a year), maternity leave, good salary with benefits and pensions — they're unionized, or course, as are most of the workers in Italy. He talks to the bosses also.

He visits prisons in Norway to discuss their humane and rehabilitative justice system, a university in Slovenia to talk about free tuition, a police force in Portugal to learn about their drug policies, schools in Finland to learn about their well-known superior education system, and Germany where he learns about health care but also about public policy that decrees remembering and understanding the Holocaust.

He went to an elementary school in France and enjoyed a nutritious, chef-prepared lunch with the children — while receiving photos on his phone showing some of the lunches that American kids had been served the same day: French fries and an unidentifiable meat product.

He also went to Tunisia and Iceland:

In Tunisia (the only non-European and only Muslim country visited), he hears how, after the country’s 2011 revolution, the new Islamist government tried to keep a guarantee of equal rights for women out of the constitution, but bowed to include it after a massive popular uprising. And in Iceland, Moore learns that the only financial company that escaped the country’s massive financial meltdown was one founded and run by women, which leads into a discussion of the transformative benefits that have come with women gaining positions of power in government and business.

Michael acknowledges that all of these countries have some problems but he visited them to pick the flowers, not the weeds. He demonstrated very clearly that it's possible to do things differently and that Americans shouldn't be afraid of this kind of social policy.

He does, at the end, say that all these ideas originated in America and that by implementing them, the US would simply be taking back what was theirs in the beginning. I thought that was a bit of a stretch but I could see why he was doing it so I let him get away with it. He is, after all, trying to make a strong political case for all these programs.

When we were talking about the movie later, we noted that he didn't look very well. He had been hospitalized a month or two ago with congestive heart failure and he may have been over-tired and strained during the making of the film. I also said — and I felt a little guilty for saying it — that he looked particularly sloppy, even for Michael Moore. I wondered if he ever thought he should "fix himself up a bit" before he made an appearance in his movies.

As soon as I said it though, I had a hard time even picturing him "fixed up." He is who he is and it doesn't seem to affect his message.

In a completely different context, I was reading today about Michelle Obama giving a talk wearing her hair so it fell over one eye. This opened a bit of a discussion about whether she could be as effective when her hair covered her eye and whether she would be taken seriously if she was always shaking her hair back or pushing it back with one hand. In the course of this discussion, I saw an expression I'd never seen before: "gender respectability politics." The person who used this expression said this is another way of policing how women look rather than what they're saying.

"We would listen, if only she presented/sounded/looked differently — specifically, in a way that affirmed my norms rather than challenging them!" "It's her fault the way she looks won't allow me to listen to her!"

I don't think the world needs any more jargon but it happens that every day, I read another analytical piece about how Hillary Clinton talks too loud, gestures too much, doesn't smile enough. No one doubts that everything about her presentation of speeches is ripped apart and stomped on on a daily basis.

Michael Moore — except for my rather lukewarm judgment on his appearance — doesn't seem to lose any of his authority and gravitas, no matter how untidy he looks!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

But I know what I like

Here's some art:

Top to bottom: Van Gogh, Monet, Renoir

We saw these paintings at an Impressionist Exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I found it very exciting to see them — yes, because of who painted them but I also genuinely loved the pictures. I don't judge Art by whether I would hang it on my walls but I would definitely be happy to live with these ones.

One of my favourite pictures is hanging on our wall. Robert Pope was a young Nova Scotian artist who sadly passed away of Hodgkin's Disease at the age of 36 in 1992. I had fallen in love with his art holding small photographic slides up to the light. I was editor of Atlantic Insight and I commissioned a story about Robert and his art. I was a big fan.

He is best known for a significant body of work exploring his experience of healthcare and healing as a cancer patient. These paintings, which he produced for his large solo show at Dalhousie University Art Gallery in 1991 were later exhibited nationally and internationally at over 65 venues.

One Christmas, Dan gave me a rental of a Robert Pope from the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. The rental was for six months but I couldn't give it up so it became a permanent part of our household.

Three years ago, there was a retrospective exhibition of Robert's work at the AGNS. I kept expecting to hear from the curator, asking for our picture to be part of the exhibition but the call never came. Maybe they don't know we have it.

I looked for it online and I can't find the painting but I found this:

This is called "Study for the Harbour" and it is very clearly the predecessor of our painting.

Lynn and I went to the AGNS last week for a little outing. The exhibition we saw is called The Last Art College: Nova Scotia College of Art and Design 1968-1978. We didn't have a lot of time and probably didn't give it the attention it deserved — or maybe we did. But if we had given it more time and taken it more seriously, maybe we'd have appreciated it more.

I did like the 36 photos of corner stores in Halifax. It was fun to see how many I could recognize and I was particularly interested to see how many of the stores opened on the corner of the building so they opened on to two streets. Here's an example — this is near where we lived years ago, downtown. (It's not part of the exhibit):

There were a couple of whimsical pieces — like this one:

And this one:

But a piece we noticed right at the beginning looked kind of like this:

Not exactly though. There were a couple more stripes but this is the closest I could find. Pretend there are a couple more stripes.

We tsk-tsked and moved on. A few steps further on, we saw the same thing again, this time very low on the wall, almost on the floor. We turned the corner, chatting and remarking on another piece when — you guessed it, there it was again. It didn't take us long to figure out that the repetition of this picture of yellow and white stripes was a statement of its own. Not that we had any idea what that statement was.

Of course it opened a conversation about Barnett Newman's Voice of Fire:

This painting — bought in a very controversial move by the National Gallery in 1990 for $1.7 million — would today sell for $50 million.

Go figure.

When it comes to Art, I try to keep an open mind and I always like something to think about.