Saturday, May 31, 2008

Dublin Eve

My digs here in Dublin are curiously reminiscent of the same I had in Florence for one week in 1995.

Not the accommodation itself (There it was simple a room at the aptly named Hotel David, thank you very much. Here it is a 2 bedroom flat in a modern apartment building.)

But the location respective to the cities is similar.

In Florence, the Hotel was on the River Arno on the North side away from the City centre and a good 10 minutes or more walk along the embankment until you crossed one of many bridges to get near the core action.

Almost identically, here in Dublin, I am on the north side of the River Liffey and a good 10 minutes or more walk along the embankment until I cross one of many bridges to get...and so on.


A beautiful night with great food at The Botticelli and a stroll along Grafton Street to St. Stephen's Green, certainly one of the loveliest of city parks.

Tomorrow, the assault on CULTURE continues anew. Stand back...

Dublin Morning

Pacing is everything.

"In story telling, speechifying, novel writing, business, war and love, timing," said the jester, "is, uh, timing, well, know..."

And especially in travel. In the words of that great American folk philosopher, Kenneth Rogers, "You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em."

Some days, you just don't want to dash about, absorbing new information like a desperate time-consumed sponge.

Thus, this morning, waking to a beautiful sunny summer day, after a week of wonderful new sights and sounds in Edinburgh, I didn't have the will to jump on my MUST SEE list.

Instead a slow and steady walk in a great circle, along Abbey Road to O'Connell and beyond and then over the bridge to Temple Bar and the Saturday food market. After a strawberry gelato, back across one of the many bridges to a supermarket and home for a breather.

Along the way, I stopped in at The Abbey Theatre to buy tickets to not one, but two different plays, the first on Tuesday night and the next on Thursday. I'm thinking about a Gray Line tour out into the glorious countryside for all of Wednesday.

I have been reading about the Abbey since I was 15 years old and to me it has always loomed as a beacon in the way that La Scala or La Fenice or the Met would to an opera fan. (Yankee Stadium, The Indy, Wimbledon, ...add your own to the list of cultural shrines...)

The apartment I have rented is in a district too much like Gastown for my liking. The flat itself is large and airy and clean and comfortable, if rather modern bland. But it is sitting in a decomposing old neighborhood, which is trying way to hard to get gentrified. Good luck to it.

One needs a full 10 to 15 minutes walk, along either the tram tracks in the back or the River Liffey in the front to find signs of civilization, i.e., a cafe, a pub, a corner grocer. However, walking is the core activity, so I might be quiet and just count my blessings that I am alive and well and in this strange and fascinating place.

The cab driver from the airport last night clocked in - among other elements in his monologue -that the Polish immigrants were ruining Ireland. This, of course, is the lament heard round the world about one group or another, especially in the age of the-jet-as-bus. And there is always some small grain of truth in these complaints, which makes them hard to simply swat away like a Winnipeg mosquito.

Certainly amidst the ubiquitous Irish lilt is heard the polyglot of all international cities. All groceries seemed to be staffed or owned by Indians, Africans and those fleeing for one reason or another the OPEC countries.

The news is dominated by the nearness of a public revolt on gas prices, the potential for food riots and the 4.5% loss in housing value in the past year.

It mus be the mountains and the sea and the pine trees that keep us in our happy stupor in Vancouver. La-la Land, indeed.

Tidying Up the House


That's better.

Thanks for the two comments from June & Mo, I now know that all is working, and better yet, all of your comments from the past week and my replies - including the garlic broccoli recipe - are now posted.

The one hour Aer Lingus flight from Edinburgh to Dublin was excellent and speedy and uneventful, which is about all you can say these days about a commercial flight, I suppose. We arrived to a fortnight of sunny summer weather.

The traffic from the airport was a total mess, thanks to a fellow Canadian...can you guess who?

That's right. Celine Dion playing to 80,000 fans at the second largest outdoor football stadium in Europe. (Wembley has 22o more seats.)

This morning, I will head out with camera on hip and report back.


Friday, May 30, 2008

'Nuther Notice to Bloggists

I completely forgot to enable the system to forward your comments to me and then to show the comments.

I think I have now corrected that.

Look, let's be honest.

At this point, if I tie my shoelaces properly, that's a good day.
I have just arrived earlier this evening in Dublin.

Please send along some more comments so that I can be assured that all is in working order.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Dear Bloggists


I didn't realize until just now that there has been a fairly steady stream of comments. Now, that's encouraging because I wasn't sure anyone was even listening.

Thanks, and Cheers,

Tomorrow, on to Dublin!

The view herein is of the magnificent Princes Street, certainly one of the great streets in the world, from high atop Calton Hill.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A Most Livable City

Don't be fooled by Ross, the white-haired and portly docent attending the main room in the National Gallery of Modern Art off Belford Road. He is no pensioner eking out his days in a bed-sit. He owns the farm near Edinburgh International Airport, the farm in Athens, Ontario (to which they will soon move for good), the computer company and the confectionery shop in Old Town, which his wife runs 7 days a week. They are still Official Bakers to the Queen, when she hangs the tiara nearby.

Ross loves Canada and Canadians. His loathing for Americans is the equal.

When I told him the story of the Indian women who were killed and injured last year near Abbotsford (because the scum who employs them provides no drinking water, no toilets and no seat belts in the van that overturned - not to mention apple boxes for comfort, and the government has long since cut the overbearing cost of paying inspectors who might ask these A-holes to transport their workers with some safety and dignity), when I told him all that, he countered with this:

In 1964, he picked up some workers for his farm with his tractor and cart. Driving less than 15 mph, they overturned. No one was hurt. Even so, he gave everyone a weeks wages (about 7 pound at the time) and a bag of potatoes (112 lbs.)

Approaching the gallery from below, one can't help but feel like Charles Ryder suddenly seeing Brideshead again after many years and in very different circumstances. These images from great movies are so powerful and they stay so persistently in our imaginations.

But then again so do the paintings and drawings of Max Ernst, Miro, Calder, Magritte, Picasso, Dali and Utrillo, all represented here.

Yesterday, the City Arts Centre, hiding neatly on Market Street under the North Street Bridge, did what so many city galleries do - showed us both ordinary and very great artists who will never be known outside their local environs.

Alexander Naysmith's 1824, "The Port of Leith," is superb, as is a stunning rich oil of 3 girls enchanted by a butterfly, by a man named Hornel. The painting is called "Seashore Roses," and it's one of those pieces that will cheer any foul mood night or day.

Edinburgh is a livable city. In spite of the rises and falls, walking is easy and pleasurable. The buses are more than plentiful. People are so warm and friendly. Everyone I've spoken with positively loves living here. And that includes Scots and those transplanted from Yugoslavia, London, Madrid and Beijing.
Last night, I watched 71-year old Tommy Steele and a huge cast of singers and dancers and puppets bring to life "Dr. Dolittle" on the stage of the Edinburgh Festival Theatre. The audience was filled with children, enthusiastic and laughing enormously at the old gags, but all curiously well-behaved. All great silly fun.
Before the show, I returned to Shaws Restaurant and had easily the best salad and the very best lamb chops ever...EVER!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


(May 26/08)

Americans in travel don’t actually speak to one another, so much as they announce everything. As if all the precious moments of life are a performance.


Certainly there are fewer of them here in Edinburgh than one would typically find in Venice. A small blessing for the easily irritated traveller.

Last night, I caught on TV the last hour of “Walk the Line,” the Johnny Cash biopic, for which Reese Witherspoon won an Oscar. Joaquin Phoenix was nominated as well, losing to Philip Seymour Hoffman's great take on Capote. The Cash story was overly simple and singular (sad, addicted man with talent is saved by tough love of his life-long sweetheart), and the drink and drug sequences were Hollywood predictable, but something must be said in high praise of Phoenix’s work.

Every time he stepped up to the mike to do a song, some true magic popped loose. Phoenix seemed obsessed with a rare energy. His delivery of these songs was so hot, so sexy, so driven, so exciting, one felt in the sudden company of a great revivalist preacher.

Life and acting careers are strange and unexpected. Whatever else may come his way, may Phoenix remember that in this movie in those scenes, he reached what few actors ever do.

As well, I finished at last the Pat Barker trilogy of novels about the Great War. “Regeneration” and “The Eye in the Door” are both terrific books, but it is the final book, “The Ghost Road,” that won the Booker Prize and is handily one of the great pieces of all time.

Listen to this paragraph, written from the perspective of one of the central characters, Billy Prior, slogging his way through the final days of the battle in late 1918 in France, after a stay in a psychiatric hospital has prepared him to return to the front:

“We are Craiglockhart’s success stories. Look at us. We don’t remember, we don’t feel, we don’t think – at least not beyond the confines of what’s needed to do the job. By any proper civilized standard (but what does that mean now?) we are objects of horror. But are nerves are completely steady. And we are still alive.”

In one sunny afternoon, I climbed the 287 steps to the top of the Sir Walter Scott Memorial and the 251 metres to the windy majestic height of Arthur’s Seat. Not to mention the very many ups and downs of daily course about the city. Not bad for a 65 year old lad who had “minor” heart surgery only three years ago. Modern life is maddening in so many ways and it is miraculous.

In Ristorante Gennaro in Grassmarket, I suffered the welcome illusion that I was in Florence or Lucca. Authentically Italiano on every way, the food was so wonderful. Instead of ordering a first and a second and a third plate, I chose 5 “small” dishes. Ha! A mixed salad, garlic broccoli, fries, bruschetta and a “half” of veggie tagliatelle. Buon appetito!


(May 26/08)

The National Galleries of Scotland are an elegant and compact joy.

In the smaller of the two top floor halls, three Rafael oils from the early 1500’s show at once both a kind of simple realism and extraordinary idealism. Joseph, so often left in the shadows of the story, is there with Mary and the child as if they were your regular Lothian family out for a bite by the local loch. And yet. The boy looks up the man with a preternatural “wisdom?” He seems to be asking a hundred unspeakable questions at once.

These painters were merely men. And yet. You can see even in complicated scenes that tiny figures in obscure corners of the canvas are not only photographically “right,” but also that there is attitude and spirit and intent in the characters and the artist and the piece as a whole. How is this possible?

In the larger room on the top floor, amidst a chamber set of Gaugin, Monet, Cezanne, Van Gogh and Degas, a dominating portrait of Lady Agnew by the American John Singer Sargent fairly leaps off the wall at you. Sargent has been burdened with the reputation of being a pretender to the Impressionist club, but his work is often wonderful and perhaps he deserves re-appraisal by whoever makes such opinions.

Guardi’s three oils of Venice (18th C.) show us the San Giogio Maggiore, the Piazza San Marco and the Salute, all sharing the uncannily identical blue sky. Of course, they are beautiful, but one cannot help but notice that there is curiously incorrect perspective in the Piazza. Even the small handfuls of gentry gathered in the afternoon sun add to the feeling that this painting is cramped and diminutive. Was he stuck with a small piece of canvas that day and a commission deadline? To capture the great open expanse of the Piazza one needs if not a huge, certainly a very long surface.

Some people can visit galleries for hours at a time. I cannot. At Expo 67 in Montreal, I used to go for 2 or 3 hours and then, exhausted by what I liked to call Monstro Over Stim, I would crawl back to my friends’ apartment and collapse. Ditto, our own Expo 86, where the season long pass allowed us to drop in for a Pavilion or two, a burrito and a coke and head back to the familiar.

The National Galleries will take at least another visit.

How much of my life has been Scottish influenced? Sitting above the Prince’s Street East Garden at a table outside the Weston Link, I suddenly realize that I am home! The lawns and tiny hill are dotted with groupings of lovers and families. Assiniboine Park, Winnipeg, 1948! Complete with highland dancers and spring blossoms. Ach!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Later the same day...

A stop at The Olive Grove Bistro sitting in the hot sun in the window and chatting for quite a while with a lovely girl from...wait for it...Tasmania! She's off now to Bristol to work with developmentally challenged people doing art work.

From there, over the North Bridge to the South Bridge and the huge Festival Theatre where 71-year old Tommy Steele is playing in Dr. Doolittle, along with puppets and others talking to the Animals. I'll buy a ticket for Tuesday evening. The young man front of house is, of course, himself an actor and we had a great chat about the challenges of a life in show biz.

In the bookstore across the street, I found a novel and a book of short stories by a man who is considered the greatest of living Irish writers, but I'll be damned if I can remember his name at the moment. Also a nice inexpensive version of Robert Louis Stevenson's "The Strange Tale of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde." This is the kind of classic work that we often assume we read somewhere along the line only to discover that, of course, we've just seen the movie, the TV series and the bubble gum cards.

Dinner at a quiet little place down "Old Fishmonger's Close" was fantastic. The chef/owner is from Spain. He came to my table and I told him I'd order two tapas dishes to start, but that I'd really love some vegetables.

The bowl of mixed grilled veggies was only just about the best I've ever tasted!

Last night at Il Castello, I figured out how they made the Garlic Broccoli, checked with the owner when he came by and you can bet I'll be adding that to my repertoire at home.

The views from the windy North Bridge are as delicious as the food...

Sunday, May 25/08

Phoned home at 8am, back to bed to snooze till 10:30, breakfast, write a Province column, which you may or may not ever see in The Province, then out to town.

In London, Venice and wherever else I've travelled, someone always stops and asks me for directions, usually a day or two after I've first set foot in the place. Why should the Edniburgh Exerience be any different?

Working my way from Hope Street (Shouldn't every city and village have a Hope Street?) through Charlotte Square, I was immediately asked for the location of number 46. I guessed right and wasn't he a happy camper? Speaking of things every town aught to have, the "Square" is a wonderful construct that I would love to see in Vancouver. Row houses on four sides, all facing an interior public park. Lovely.

In the National Portrait Gallery, the doscent informed me at once that a) this was the first purpose-built portrait gallery in the world, and b) that she'd just returned from a marvelous trip to the Three Vees - Vancouver, Victoria and Vernon! She just about flipped out of her shetland sweater when I told her where I was from. Later, after I'd toured the great red brick building, I made her an official Canadian by pinning her with a Red Maple Leaf flag. She was suitably thrilled.

The top floors have paintings dating back many hundreds of years. The common and surprising theme seemed to be NOSES. I mean serious Probiscus Land. Wow! Even the women were sporting serious honkers.

To me, the most fascinating of these showed large groups of families or villagers, no only in Scotland, but often abroad, especially in Rome and Naples. One painting taking place in a salon in someone's fabulous house in Naples, included the owner, the painter, a famous violinist of the day...and ON HARPSICHORD, FOLKS...a warm welcome for Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his equally talented dad!

On the middle floor, many rich paintings, photos and montages in different media of people still alive and well and in the news today. One haunting large canvas portrays three reknowned doctors of oncology, blue gowns and latex gloves bloodied from surgery, looking back over their shoulders at the artist. There is a ghostly nimbus around them, fading into a deep, funk of dark blue, giving the whole wrestling match with death a suitably frightening aura.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

All Aboard!

Is everyone in England gracious and kind?

That can't be, but it is certainly the feeling I had travelling from south of London to Edinburgh yesterday.

Amersham is the very last stop on the Metropolitan Line, and the fare to King's Cross was pricey: almost eight pounds. But simple and direct and the ticket lady was pleasant and I merely stepped out the door onto the platform and - whooosh! - the train arrived.

To get from the Underground to the National Express can be daunting, as it is a maze of passageways, stairs, elevators and scurrying commuters. But how congenial all the employees were, warm and friendly and sending me unerringly in the quickest, right direction.

The rail station was itself hysterical with action and swarming bodies at 10 on a Friday morning, but the very first person I approached about getting my rail ticket stamped, said brightly, "Oh, I can do that for you, sir. Just follow me."

When I thanked him and asked where I might get a spot of breakfast, he pointed in the direction of both the Royal York pub and the National Express First Class Lounge.

At the pub, I was so sleepy and jet-lagged still, that I ordered a cappuccino and promptly poured two heaping containers of black pepper in the bowl, thinking I was adding brown sugar. I was so tired I didn't really notice the difference for the first few minutes.

At the National Express lounge, I was seated smartly at a computer station, compete with WiFi, and immediately served chamomile tea and a cookie. Even better, there was a completely separate and clean men's room!

The train was among the best I've ever been on. Smooth and comfortable and again, smiling and helpful and personable servers offering a broad range of expensive and not-so expensive and completely free goodies (tea, coffee, juice, water and cookies on the house.)

The trip from London to Edinburgh runs just under five hours. At about Hour Three Plus, I dozed off, suddenly opened my eyes to behold the Sea! Two cyclists in yellow jerseys and yellow helmets were winding their way along the foreshore on a beautiful path and I wanted immediately to be there with them.

I had barely stepped off the strain at Waverly Station and suddenly I was in a taxi with a marvelous driver, who (I'm sure he's said these kinds of things several hundred thousand times) gave me the short guided tour of everything one needs to know about Edinburgh. I say short because the flat I've rented is but minutes away from the station. And the Castle and Princes Street and the Royal Mile.

Edinburgh had me from the moment I arrived.

Friday, May 23, 2008


A two-hour walk through the pasture lands, small forests, riverbeds and local football pitches yesterday morning landed us in a local pub for my first shandy in perhaps 40 years.

A shandy is a mix (in Italy, you would ask for "Un mezzo-mezzo.") of lager and lemon juice. What I should have asked for was a half size, as I am really incapable of drinking beer. a few sips and I am heavy and groggy, which means, among other things, that I am a helluva cheap date!

Walt brought along along a bag of stale bread, which first, dipping in the waters, he then fed to swans, coots, ducks and a lost Canada goose. I hope his trip to England was more congenial than the cattle car experience I survived.

In the evening, we drove into Amersham and had a terrific Cantonese dinner at "Man's," immediately next door to the Crown Hotel, in which the famous bedroom scene in "Four Weddings and a Funeral" was filmed. For many years now, honeymooners book long in advance for the privilege. Are they hoping to meet that silly fool, Mr. Grant?

Walt and I have been friends for over 40 years now. He graduated in nuclear physics, was a musician and fiction writer and then, some 30 years ago began the transformation to what he is today - a world recognized leader in energy policy. He had just returned from a lecture first in Las Vegas and then The Netherlands. On one of his many walls is one of his many citations, being declared by Scientific American as one of the great contributors of 2004.

He is devoted to the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team, Warner Brother's cartoons, plants and good stories. We had a ball.