Opening Statement

Wednesday 28 August 2013

Paris Diary: Our Last Day!

Paris by night: Oh la la!

We weren't going to waste our last day in Paris. Truth be told 4 days is hardly enough to do even a fraction of the things we would  have liked. We were go go go at that. Still our whirlwind trip was a helluva lotta fun but boy are we wacked out now!

It took awhile to get our butts in gear. I wrote about my morning walk all ready. Before lunch we headed by Metro to the Galleria Lafayette. Its four huge shopping malls, all in one store complex. A General building [mostly all high fashion designer women's clothes, perfumes, etc.], Hommes [Men's designer cloths and furnishings, like  $600 Gucci Ipad covers etc] and Home wares. It was expensive beyond belief and full of very rich Arabs, + other wealthy middle easterner with their many wives buying a few of everything while the guys just stood there looking dozed out like we guys everywhere in such situations]. Everything was excellent, including the service, the restaurants, you name it. Its a grandiose architectural marvel, the General building had a huge stained glass dome above a six story high courtyard

Shopping at Gallarie Lafayette!

We eventually ended up on the 7th floor sunroof across from the Opera House, looking out over the incredibly ornate rooftops of Paris. There was a bar that sold everything from $10 bottles of coke to you name it. Actually in Paris a bottle of wine is cheaper than water or soft drinks, except for places like here where there is no limit on any prices I could detect. No matter. We got a couple of nice sun chairs, put up our feet to rest awhile. Sitting beside some rich Arab sheiks, some very wealthy Iranians, everybody just talking and joking around. It was very pleasant and everyone was very nice to us. God knows who they were or what they've done but it didn't matter on the 7th floor.

In the men's store I broke down and bought a couple of very nice men's hats from the sale section. A real French beret. Still pricey but nothing like the cheapo stuff you find over here. Knowledgeably helpful staff, lots of mirrors. Janet got a hat too, so we can go out together matched. Actually looked real cool on her. Also bought a wallet. Wait tilI I get the bills. I won't have anything left to put into the wallet.Ha ha ha.Oh well.

Rooftop view of the Paris Opera + so on.

We had drinks at a nice street bistro out front of the Gallerie. Seems they own everything but have some deal whereby top brand name merchants, designers, restaurateurs etc can get space for a kiosk, section etc. etc. etc. By now I was sticking to my café au laits. Once again the "Americano" coffee is putrid. The sharp rough edge of the beans is at least watered down somewhat by the milk, more than I would usually drink but it works. Sometimes I'd get a double expresso if I needed a second wind. That was okay too. However none of that today.

We made our way back down the the Eiffel Tower at sunset. Walked down from the esplanade, past the fountains and statues, over the bridge, quite a stretch. We stood under the tower gazing up as the night lights went on. It a structural marvel, much more than I ever would've expected, a graceful beauty of fine engineering. Very impressive. Soldiers patrolled the area with submachine guns cocked but otherwise it was just very cool and laid back. It turned into a gold beacon in the night. God its hard to explain, it is just so beautiful. Left us in awe, beat even the great Maya pyramid temple in Chichen-Itza, which has quite fascinated me on past trips. We later wandered back across the bridge to the riverside to just sit and look. Very romantic. Breathtaking even.

Eiffel tower base sunset. Many more photos @ Flickr [see slideshow above]!

We headed back to our hotel late. Had dinner sitting at the window of the bistro across the street. There were the cracks of a few gunshots down the street. Crowds of people running past, while we sit there chatting and enjoying dinner. Next everyone came running back, a few guys dragging these two very quarrelsome fellows who were trying to escape. No such luck for them. They'd been caught, were even getting roughed up a bit as they tried to wrestle themselves free. Next followed a crowd of crying women. Nobody looked too happy with the guys that had been caught or whatever. We asked the manager  what happened. He just shrugged.

I think there must be undercover police everywhere. I looked out at the plaza a few times later that night as we packed. The head honcho was still standing on the street corner leaning against a lamp pole watching everything. Either a cop or a hard core criminal type. We will never know. Was kind of exciting though.

Wonderful late night dinner. Too bad about the shooting though.

After about 4 hours sleep we had a quick breakfast before our driver arrived. I was still drinking my coffee in the cab on the way to the airport. Everything went smooth except for one thing: VAT [Value Added Tax]

Let me tell you, its a real pain in the butt and fraught with hassles. In each EU [European Union] country foreign visitors can get a tax refund if you bring your stamped receipts to the airport with you.  The staff have to write the forms up at the store where you purchase the goods. They claim a share of the return once its approved. It applies on some goods and not on others. Means more angry lineups at the airport with few staff available, and rather rude and quarrelsome ones at that, who basically just stamp it again and then you are to put it in a mailbox to be sent to Slovakia. Sounds like a good $$$ return but I seriously wonder how much we will ever get back. Basically I'd say it's not worth all the b.s. and I can't see this "system" working for long. My advice? Skip it altogether. Its not worth the grief.

I slept a few hours on the airplane wearing my headphones. I can't stand listening to drunk and quarrelsome people, babies screaming etc. Read awhile. Customs Canada was no big deal and soon enough we were home again. Janet says she is glad to be back. We both had a great time but whirlwind trips mean you go nonstop for the whole time you are away. No days off to do nothing but relax, like when you are at a beach resort for a few weeks. Very exciting and interesting though.

No doubt we have a lifetimes worth or new memories now. For now though I think it will take us a few days to recuperate. I'll have to make a few phone calls to follow up on the Bad Boy Brock hearing and soon. Otherwise it was a great trip. Its great to be home. We are both higher than kites from all the excitement, but totally pooped. Whew! Cool!

I've got lots of photos. Some more London and Paris traveller tips and stories I should write up later as a post script. 10 days of messy blogs written and posted on the run that should be tidied up, and so on. But we are home!

PS: More local scuttlebutt on the news from Syria and Egypt has been posted in this months August Odds + Sods blog @ News!

Tuesday 27 August 2013

Paris Diary: Morning Interlude ...

Good morning! There is a six hour time difference between Toronto and Paris. I would suppose most of you are still sound asleep as I write. No matter.

A bleary eyed morning view of the local expresso bar + tobacco store.

Our hotel is the Ibis Styles by the Landon Metro station. I might've not correctly identified it before. I notice there's also a Hotel Ibis a block or so away.

We had our continental breakfast which we have quite taken too. After a few café au lait we went to the main desk to book our cab to the airport tomorrow morning. Also to book in our boarding pass on line. The room internet service here is quite poor. Very intermittent. The desk clerk suggested it must be our computer but I doubt it. We have 2 Apple Ipads and an Acer netbook.

Smoking is still quite popular + the tobacco laws are quite lax.

We took a morning walk about the neighbourhood. Across the graffiti covered railway bridge, and continued on through an old backstreet hotel district. Lots of sex shops, pharmacies, corner bars. I finally found two 1 1/2 litre bottles of cold water at a tobacco shop. The Vietnamese woman behind the cigarette counter didn't speak any English, nor I French but was she was very friendly and we somehow worked it out. They cost 3 euros each, typical here. I looked about the shop, mostly just a bar counter where a gaggle of blacks and Arab working men stood smoking cigarettes + reading the morning newspapers, while knocking back steaming expressos. A real nice slice of life. Quite enjoyed my little jaunt down the back streets.


We are heading out shopping and to the Eiffel tower again today. On our long walks through Paris we can take everything in. It can be a vigorous jaunt. Tiring at times but then we take little breaks on a city bench watching life go by. Quite fascinating and enjoyable.

Tomorrow we leave for Toronto and will arrive there two hours after we left because of the time change. But it's off now on our final day in Paris this trip.

The transit yards as seen from the local bridge.

Monday 26 August 2013

Paris Diary: To the Arc de Triumph!

Today we took a long leisurely stroll up the Champs Elysee to the Arc of Triumph. There's a long tree lined roadside promenade lined with park benches. I found it quite tranquil. About half way up the Champs the shopping district begins. It was incredibly expensive. A local told us that's just because its a tourist area. I never saw so many middle eastern woman in black with their faces covered by niqabs. They had the kiddies in tow. Dad seemed to be ostensibly calling the shots as they bought up everything in sight. Otherwise a mad mix of Europeans, quite a crush the closer we got to the arch.

There were supposed to be two big music superstores. The Virgin store was closed. I asked a guard where it had gone. He informed me that there were no more Virgins in Paris in broken English. Hmmm. No surprise really. I should think not. I've never seen so many statues of quite anatomically correct + detailed naked people in my life. But I passed on any further commentary. Fnac, the other French chain store was okay but we had trouble getting served in English. We were basically ignored and the clerks would just walk away + pretend they didn`t see or hear us. Blow us off for our poor grasp of French. Noses in the air, pickle up their butts. First time I've experienced that this trip. They had a good jazz and blue collection. I found some good discs but quite frankly they were very overpriced as well.

Up the Champs thru the shopping district.

Finally we reached the Arc de Triumph. It is truly magnificent. A giant relatively sparse Roman style redux stone block design with an tall arch in the middle surrounded by a traffic roundabout. There is an underground tunnel so you don't have to risk crossing the very busy street. We walked about admiring the ornate carvings, masonry, sculptures, plaques and tributes to the various conquerors who have come and gone, marching with great fanfare under the arch, mostly French.

The Nazi's grand entrance thru the Arc de Triumph in June 1940.

I`ve seen many infamous photos of Hitler at the Eiffel tower, the Nazi troops marching in through the Arc to occupy Paris in 1940. Little to no mention of that here. One plaque honours the underground resistance fighters, and another of course was an engraved quote by General Charles De Gaulle urging everyone to fight on. I saw a photo of his grand return marching through the arch with the French free fighters backed by a huge column of American troops in a museum display atop the arch. Mostly though, the Arch of Triumph honours the heroes of the Revolutionary and Napolionic wars.

The French were not impressed! Stiff resistance would follow.

We paid the fee to go up the spiral staircase. What a climb it was, but the rooftop view of Paris was breathtaking, well worth the effort. Oh yes, I bought an Arc de Triumph paperweight as a souvenir of our trip from the rooftop souvenir shop.

Back on the Champs we walked about checking out the little restaurants and sidewalk bistros. A cheeseburger cost 22 Euros, the equivalent of about $30. Why would anyone buy a cheeseburger in Paris? Indeed, they understand our hamburger culture about as well as our coffee one, that is to say, not at all. Still it was about the cheapest item on the menus which were mostly all written in French, with translations available in most every European and Arabic language but very, very few in English. Even a French or German beer was cheaper than a bottle of Coke a Cola, one litre costing about 15 Euros. They don`t mind serving you that in English as long as you pay through the nose for it.

We kept on walking until we found a so so sandwich shop. I picked up a couple of bottles of water to take back to our room. Most everything in general closes early in Paris except for the night life; restaurants, clubs and bars. I have yet to see a corner store, let alone one open late.

So it was a good day. We are exhausted by all the walking and scenery. The architecture, like the art is quite exquisite and rich in history and different styles. However, I personally find it too ornate for my own tastes. Its all too busy and grandiose, even overdone. Too much so and it all clashes, but that's just me. Most of the people are very pleasant with us but I do sometimes note an underlying chip on the block towards anything English. It must weigh a ton for some of them. They can be quite snobbish and unbecoming. Parlez vouz a screw you I say!

Part of an older statue now in museum atop the arch.

The Paris Metro [subway] is dirty, hot and sweaty. The trains and tunnels are a lot bigger and wider than in London. The station crews are very helpful and cheerful. I find it rather odd that you have to open the doors yourself at each stop to get on or off. Bleech! Can you imagine how many tens of thousands if not more icky hands must touch the latch or button every day? Definitely a faux pas in the health and safety department.

There is so much to do and so little time to do it this trip. Paris is a beautiful city, very European, more so I think than London. But London is rich in history and culture too. The people seemed more familiar, down to earth and I preferred the less hurried pace.

We have one full day of adventures let here. It is all going so quickly, but then we did book a whirlwind trip and it is a lot of fun.

Underneath looking up!

Sunday 25 August 2013

Paris Diary: Day at the Louvre!

August 25, 2013

We awoke to a wet cool Paris day. Our breakfast is included here at the Hotel Ibis Paris, as it was in London. The dining hall resembled a Clock Work Orange set with mod futuristic late 60's/ early seventies bright tacky colours, shapes and designs. Everything matched, even the cups and plates.

In London we got a grand British breakfast buffet with eggs, ham, sausage, toast, buns, fruit etc. etc. Here we got a continental breakfast. Disappointing at first but then we took to the hot bread sticks with butter, fresh cheese, figs, and hand squeezed juice. Quite nice actually.

Once again the hotel had a coffee machine that poured out some sort of foul chemical brew. The café au lait, and cappuccinos in both countries are nice at most restaurants but forget about the so called Café Americano. They totally don't get "coffee" like we enjoy it. We have our own North American coffee shop culture. Never really thought about it before but I now think so. Plus the beans here are sharp and bitter, not very full bodied. Arabian perhaps?

We came back to our room to get ready to go out for the day. We are quite tired from all the walking and travelling. Go, go, go. Quite frankly I fell back asleep until lunch, then we set out for the Louvre.

It is situated in a grand sprawling endless series of rich buildings and halls, four stories in all. U shaped. There are many gardens, statues, and a vast cement plaza with the famous glass pyramid in the middle. There was a huge line up, a few hours long at least, and that was just to buy a ticket. Then there is another long line up for a security check.

I knew this was not going to work. Long line ups totally freak me out. I get too impatient and anxious. So I talked to one of the workers. Explained my dilemma. Politely but frank. He told me about the "other entrance." We walked the length of the Louvre, to the stone arch and made a few turns. Walked into an empty room, got our tickets and walked past a disinterested security guard straight into the museum! Incredible. Unbelievable. Plus completely public and legit. We could look out the windows at the long, long miserable line up waiting in the rain, whereas we were dry, happy and inside the Louvre!

I could tell you where the entrance is but it's just too good to be true. Why ruin it? Email me and I will give you the details. But otherwise, shhhhhh! Let's not spoil a great opportunity.

We mostly explored the ground floor, checking the Italian paintings. Then the very early exhibits from the Greek, Roman and Egyptian eras. Art, sculptures, and artifacts going back in some cases up to 3700 years ago. Classic civilizations have always fascinated me, use to love teaching the class when it was offered. It's fascinating how empires rise and fall. Rising from the dust of past ages into which they eventually return again. From dust we come, into the dust we shall return. All things, in time. A lesson for our life and times too. Nothing is permanent except perhaps for human nature. Then again we only get a little bit better or worse, all pretenses, monuments and the veneer of being civilized notwithstanding.

I am a big fan of the ancient historian Thucydides. He once said that whomever forgets their history is doomed to repeat it. That in essence is the human condition. Sound too pessimistic cynical or realistic? Take your pick. Its all the same to me.

My favourite comment of the day was by a perturbed fellow tourist who loudly exclaimed to all present that he didn't know he was coming to visit a "religious museum". Indeed, whether it be Christian, Roman, Greek, Egyptians etc etc etc, the artwork  + symbolism overwhelmingly reflects the cultural images of and beliefs in a civilizations deities, whatever they might be. Take that away and there probably wouldn't be much left to the Louvre. Or for that matter, I would suspect, any civilization even if their gods and beliefs are strictly secular, human or material ones. What did he expect?

The Mona Lisa and Venus di Mila were must sees, and very popular at that too. Packed rooms. Crowds vying for position with their cameras and so on. They are, of course, both excellent and got me wondering more about the nature of art. We can learn a lot by considering different so called important or influential examples of good art. This is true. I think so. However I definitely saw a lot of other pieces that I enjoyed a lot more than these two famous and much acclaimed artifacts, though they were marvellous too.

I've often thought that after all is said and done its really what appeals to your own aesthetic that matters most, that is, what one likes or speaks to you. Otherwise any high falootin' art snobbery or definitive standards of excellence are very questionable indeed. Why is this or that so excellent? Because somebody else has decided so and everybody else feels they must follow suit? Are too lazy, afraid or intimidated to feel they can have an inner individual aesthetic of their own?

I love being exposed to and challenged by different types of art, be it in the form of photography, paintings, sculpture, music, dance what have you. But ultimately its subjective what I decide I like or not. I'm happy to debate the pros and cons. Regardless of whatever some expert arbitrator of good taste might have decided it is, what I find pleasing is what really matters most to me. Otherwise it's bullshit. Maybe that's why a lot of folk just dont really enjoy or appreciate art? Worrying that they aren't right or are uncertain about what they are supposed to like? Concerned with what others will think? Think about it sometime.

I once had an artist friend of some renown. I lost track of him over the years. Anyway, I asked him what his paintings were about. What did they mean? He said he really didn't know. He just felt like doing something and did it. It either felt right or not. He invited me to come over every so often. We'd laugh it up, get stoned and have fun making up names for his finished art pieces. Then he'd title them accordingly. I'd go to his shows afterwards to watch. Folks would ask him, so what does it mean? Why did you call it that?!?

Tuckered out at the Louvre + we only saw but a small part of the many exhibits!

He'd ask them what they thought it meant. They might be perplexed but eventually would come up with something or other. "Yes", he'd say, "you are absolutely right! That's it!" 

They would invariably leave very pleased with their purchase, quite confident they knew what it meant. I thought the paintings were quite nice. So did a lot of other people it seems. Abstract angels with no mouths. Strange contrasting shapes. Collages of pastel colour and current or past images. Very impressionist landscapes, places unknown. Sound bad? Really, who's to say whether the buyers weren't absolutely right. What does it matter really to anyone else if you happen to like it or not?

Good Lord people: Think and feel for yourself!!!

There was a local critic who critiqued his work analyzing it at great length, explaining all. My friend would marvel at how he ever figured it all out at the art socials and so on. It was worth a lot of good, free advertising but really he considered him an insufferable snob.

For what its worth, if folks were honest and upfront with him personally and as an artist, he would treat them the same. Otherwise it was just good fun playing the game to much acclaim.

Anyway, Janet and I left the Louvre rather tired and exhausted at closing time, 5:45 pm. Crossed the street to a very quaint little corner salon where we enjoyed the good service, and simple but tasty cuisine over a few café au lait. We were going to walk to the Arch of Triumph but it was still cold and wet so we decided to just call it a night. A very good full day in Paris. It will be nice to just relax back in our room.

Saturday 24 August 2013

Paris Diary: Arrival!

Aug 24, Late Evening

Today was a great 5th anniversary for Janet and I. We begin the day in London and finished it in Paris. We made our way down to the Eiffel Tower for sunset. It is a lot bigger and much more of a architectural marvel than I would've thought. It lite up at dark, changing colours, from silver to gold, with 2 huge strobe lights on top. Sounds tacky, but no, it is quite magical. We smooched in the dark watching the changing lights. Then had a very good dinner at a near by patio restaurant. Janet ordered the roast chicken. I had the club sandwich; a huge one on a very fresh bread roll, stuffed with excellent cold cuts, cheese, lettuce and tomatoes, nothing cheap or crappy. I was surprised my bottle of coke cost almost $8 in euros! Otherwise it was reasonable, so to speak, for the great cuisine and fine service that we got.

Aug 24, 2013: Early Evening

View from our Paris room

We reached our hotel in downtown Paris after a nice train trip through the French countryside. The farm land is rolling, reminds me of Southern Ontario, but different. Maybe more like Quebec? There are little rural hamlets, each house with a steep tiled roof, each hamlet with a tall church spiral. Very rustic and idyllic. The train left an hour late, so we all got a free pass to travel to Paris from London again within the next year! I slept for awhile and missed the chunnel crossing. Oh well, I hear it was very dark. Hmmm.

We have unpacked and are going to take a neighbourhood walk. Maybe see a site or two, or just get a little flavour of the city. Dinner too.

Aug 24, 2013: Early morning

Waiting for our train

My Paris Diary begins in London on a rainy morning at the St. Pancras  [not to be confused with St. Pancreas] Train station in London. We awoke to an overcast rainy day, our first here, but apparently quite typical. We enjoyed an early breakfast at the hotel and a cab drive across town to the huge train station where we sit outside the Euro Star International Service area an hour or so early. We like to be early in case there are any delays at customs, but so far this seems very straightforward. Possibly it has something to do with the European Union? Anyway, our train departs heading under the chunnel and across the French countryside to Paris, leaving at noon, arriving two-ish.

There are pianos here in the train station. Folks try their hand at tinkling the ivories. Everyone claps politely. Nice touch. There are lot of line-ups and we didn't see any info kiosks. However there are agents everywhere to help with directions. There are quite a wide variety of cafes, restaurants and stores to wile away ones time. Free internet as well, very common in London.

Goodbye London!

An observation: The Londoners seem so very polite, nothing like in Canada. There is still a pleasant semblance of manners to oil the social mechanism so it runs smoothly. I think the old men are allowed to be crotchety as a courtesy perhaps but otherwise no. Folks also make way and are considerate of elderly women, or a lady standing with parcels on the tube too. There is still some chivalry left.

Thursday 22 August 2013

President Brock's OECTA Hearing!

News Flash!

OECTA Halton Elementary President Richard Bad Boy Brock has been removed from office and stripped of his members rights and privileges for 2 years as a result of his August 22 Discipline Board hearing.

The Director of the Halton Catholic Board [?], the Halton local executive and membership have been advised by OECTA General Secretary Marshal Jarvis of the decision, in that order.

I am releasing the notice letter since it is now public information on my Sept. 5 blog. Please stay tuned for more.

OECTA Halton Elementary President Richard "Bad Boy" Brock stands up for teachers at the spring 2013 OECTA AGM. Now? He's been dismissed! Stay tuned!

Aug 30 News Watch: Here's the protocol for the release of the results from President Brock's discipline hearing: Out of common decency at the very least one would expect he'd be notified personally first so he will know and can notify his executive, unit membership or whomever as he might choose. After all, it is about him. OECTA Provincial is required to publicly release the info in its next news publication after the decision has been made. Stay tuned. The news black out still remains in effect as of 11:15 am Friday Aug 30.

Aug 23 News Update:

On August 22 everyone present at President Brocks hearing was told that any + all information pertaining to the case was "sealed". That was not done on Richards request, so it certainly wouldn't have been done to help him, despite whatever other malarkey might eventually be used to cover up the cover up.

You will recall that the July 5th OECTA Provincial Executive ratification vote remained confidential for months after the controversial decision was made. Likewise the names and votes for the Council of Presidents "endorsement" vote, [that didn't have any bearing on the MOU which had all ready been ratified]. After the voting info [the names + how they voted] was officially released few could find it anywhere readily apparent, until it was reposted as public info here on this blogsite.

Quite clearly the secret veil of the OECTA "Code of Silence" still remains firmly in place. In Richard Brocks case for whom and for what reason? And for how long are we supposed to wait to find out? It truly boggles the mind!

Here's the story to date:

Is this the OECTA News story of the summer? The year? Today August 22nd, while most everybody is away or not paying attention Halton Elementary President Richard "Bad Boy" Brock will appear before an OECTA kangaroo court hearing. He will ostensibly be tried for speaking out against the OECTA MOU last summer when he did not support the Provincial Executive's unilateral MOU ratification vote.

One has to wonder about the who and why's of anyone insisting on doing so long after the fact! Did Richard not just do what many members believed was morally and principally necessary and right?  By take a brave stand rather than enable OECTA in it's folly through his silence, as his members hard earned contract rights were stripped and given away?

For the past while I have been reposting the blog archives from last year. The silence and inchoate anger back then was obviously deafening! The nefarious OECTA Code of Silence was firmly in place as our members were simply told what Provincial OECTA had decided to do. Was that anyway for an association which is supposed to be representing and working for its members to operate? Let alone one who had just broken solidarity with the other teachers affiliates? During a crisis situation in our collective fight against the provincial Liberals + their blatant strike to strip our hard fought contract rights and benefits away?

Will Richard now be told to make an apology? Did you know he could be barred from further holding public office as President of OECTA Halton Elementary after over 20 loyal years of executive service, all because he dared react on principle? What sort of precedent would that set for any remaining semblance of freedom of speech within OECTA?

Who would even consider forwarding or supporting such a vile + ridiculous complaint? Why? How did it ever get this far? Won't the wedge issue being created just continue to split the union apart along the support lines for or against the contentious 2012 OECTA MOU? At the very time when our newly elected President James Ryan and the incoming OECTA 2013-14 executive tries to rebuild our union solidarity within our union + with the other teacher affiliates? At this most critical juncture in time as we enter the latest round off provincial table discussions for our next contract? Does this sound like sour grapes to you? It sure does to me! Perhaps even a case of some OECTA'ers drinking too much red OLP Kool-Aid ... 

We wait with bated breath to learn more about the charges and the names of all involved so we can better understand the latest OECTA debacle. Also the outcome of this ridiculous trial! Good luck Richard Bad Boy Brock! Thanks for continuing to fight the good fight on behalf of all our provinces teachers!


Monday 19 August 2013

London Diary 2: 6 Days in August!

[The diary entries will be added to the top of the blog each day this week.]

Aug 23 2013

I rested with a pleasant cappuccino sitting on the Thames riverside at lunch today. Enjoying the sun and breeze as I gazed out at the majestic London Bridge. We walked across and back before buying a ticket into the London Tower.

Inside the walls we toured White Tower the 10th century Norman Palace. The tales of torture and be headings would put the ancient Mayas to shame. There are at least three British queens and two Catholic saints buried in the chapel on the grounds. It is still a royal estate, and is guarded + run by the Beef eaters + British military service, though no royals have lived here in a good many years. The royal jewels are still kept here. The line up for the viewing was a few hours long so we passed it up.

Next to Oxford Street. I gave Janet and my niece Katrina my credit card to go buy her birthday present. She found a nice fall/ spring coat to wear to school this year. We hung out at a pub up in White Chapel while she and a girlfriend went to scout out a bigger rental flat. They were quite excited but won't find out if they got it right away. Both are working women so I'd guess they have a good chance, if not at this one then with another very soon, hopefully before classes resume on Sept 3rd.

It is fitting Katrina begins her first year teaching full time just as I retire. The same thing happened with dad and I making Katrina the third of us to keep on teaching in a row. The whole family is very proud of her and I know dad would be too.

We wrapped up our visit with a superb curry dinner, tons of food, ridiculously cheap. Bid our farewells, then came to the hotel to pack. Tomorrow morning we catch the train to Paris.

Many more photos to come. See slideshow for now ...

Aug. 22 2013

Am living life too fast to write about it now, but am taking notes to catch up later. Some great antique + music shopping along Portobello Street at Notting Hill on Thursday. Found a few excellent music stores there; "Rough Trade" [Rock/ Retro] at the outlet here and "Honest Johns" [R+B/ blues/ Jazz/ Funk/ Reggae]. Easily spent a few hundred pounds. Many wonderful cafes and pubs along the way.

Aug 21 2013

Another very busy day! We started off this morning at the Victorian era Coventry Garden Market. The neighbourhood is very Victorian as well. We sat at an outdoor café in the shade enjoying an espresso and cappuccino. Then met up with another nice English couple we holidayed a few times with in Jibicoa Cuba. They took us on a nice long neighbourhood walk down past Piccadilly Circus again, in the daytime now. Busy as ever if not as magical like after dark.

We stopped in a very unique grocery store, "Fortum and Mason" where Queen Elizabeth used to shop. Not so much anymore. She is getting quite old. There was an incredible variety of English sweets, cookies, cakes, meats, teas, well you name it. Even chocolate covered ants, which I have never seen before. Like the snack sized can of worms. A little bit of everything.

Janet + Liz exchange pleasantries ...

We had lunch in a very typical London pub. Bangers and mash with gravy and a chutney sauce. Cold draught beer. Not all the beverages are cold here. One could sit all day, there was no hurry or rush, everyone quite friendly, just knocking a few back.

Afterwards Richard and Elaine dropped us off at "Harrods" department store. Incredible! 75,000 lbs. pens [1 lb = $168 Cdn now].  Very elaborate, garish, encrusted in jewels. Perfect for signing declarations of war or billion dollar oil deals I suppose. Top line English cloths, groceries, mens furnishings, fabulous objects de art befitting a palace. Even separate Oyster and Caviar bars!

Harrods has an Egyptian theme to it. Indeed there were quite a few swarthy Egyptian men and women, Arabs and various other middle easterners spending LOTS of money. Some in traditional garb, others not. The owner had erected a lavish tribute to Lady Dianne and Dodi Al Fayed, who was his son. It's rather a touchy issue with some Londoners. Had Diane married Dodi as was widely expected at the time, Princes William and Harry could've had a half Egyptian brother. Just what could a good Englishman or woman do? Hence the conspiracy theories about their untimely demise.

One could spend a few days in Harrods alone. It was quite a lavish display of wealth + influence. I found a few good reads in the excellent book department, one of the best and most thoughtfully stocked ones I have ever seen. A Christies of London mens wool beret for back in Canada next winter. Quite frankly very reasonably priced compared to what one would pay back home.

The staff, as at Fortnums were impeccably dressed and gentile. A sales lady came by to find us in a very high end dressing room, I sitting back in the leather chair as Janet browsed at the latest dresses, starting in the 10's of thousands of pounds price range. I told her not to worry, we would leave soon. Just planning our purchases for another lifetime. She just laughed and said that was fine. Lots of folks like to just come browse. Then she turned and left us alone to our fantasy.

Janet wanted to do some souvenir shopping, so we made our way back to Piccadilly Circus. Had supper, then returned to our hotel by the tube after dark to relax. It was an excellent day of shopping, even if we mostly just browsed.

Amazing! I would say the stores out did anything we ever saw in New York. Would make Holt Renfrew in Toronto look like a dollar store. So this is how the other half really live [or quarter? Or tenth? or 2%?] ;-)

Aug 20th 2013

Today was go go go from the get go. It still seems we have only scratched the surface of London. Here's a quick run down of today's itinerary:

We headed out after breakfast to Camden Market. It's a bazaar of vendors selling t-shirts, art, food and so on. There are a few big fashion indie stores. Quite unique. A hybrid post heavy duty hard rocker and punk look seemed to be popular, lots of leather and thick shit kicking boots. Some Clockwork Orange t-shirts, bowler hats and pants. It was quite trendy I suppose, in a post 20th century sense. Either a mad churning backwash from the last century of pop culture or the breakwaters of a new one? I'm not sure, but the times certainly continue to change just as they always have I suppose.

Afterwards we headed to the more upscale stores along Oxford Street.  Massive throngs of wall to wall people, every background, race and nationality. Post British Empire London a good half century and more later? Lots of mid easterners, east Europeans, Indians, Asians, Afrikaners, but also more white people than I have seen in any one place in quite some time. Solid fair haired English maidens and horse face London businessmen in pin strip suits mingling with lumpen prole working class blokes pack the local bars, door to door, sometimes together, other times not. I would suspect a lot of the old class divisions have collapsed along with the racial and ethnic ones as well.

We explored the back streets making our way down to Carnaby Street and Soho. Soho is a gay village now. Carnaby Street is no longer Swinging London. The sixties are long gone along with the Marquee Club and other once famous underground landmarks and shops. It has become very gentrified. Think of Yorkville in Toronto.

We met some local Brits outside the Shakespeare Head Bar. They lived here back in the day. They said it has completely changed, but they still like to come here for a walk. Of course its packed with tourists this time of year but its quite lively and all. They were  very friendly just everyday folk about Janet and my age. Very pleasant, delightful and interesting to talk too.

Truth be told I also still walk about the old haunts of my hometown Toronto sometimes. Same story, life moves on, though seemingly at an increasingly faster pace as we race headlong into the future vortex of our ever changing life and times.

We made our way to Piccadilly Circus by sunset. Think of Yonge St. at Dundas Square Toronto multiplied by ten on the weekend, or Times Square New York only 5 times bigger and busy. Long processions of red double decker buses. London cabs. Flashing two or three story tall t.v.screens showing commercials. Souvenir shops occupying a whole huge city block. The stately old stone buildings; huge, imposing, quite impressive monuments to the age of empire and wealth. The design no longer reflecting their purpose in the direct sense. Whatever business once conducted there now probably long gone, moved on elsewhere. Leaving a vacuum of sorts, a huge tourist monument to past glories. It was lively, quite a bit of fun, lots to see and do. Now rolling in a new source of wealth as a mecca everyone can now come, see, and mix at the start of the new century.

Liz + I at Piccadilly Circus ...

We arrived back at our hotel late evening to relax. I was somewhat wrong about the subway. The cars on the district line are quite nice. The others narrow, packed and grimy sweat boxes, graffiti here and there. No air conditioning. Still pretty efficient though. I'm not sure how the huge matrix of different lines and transfer points makes sense but have left it up to Janet to be our navigator, having long given up myself. Though I am directionally challenged, can even get lost going to the corner store back home.

The music stores have so far been disappointing. We plan to explore Nottingham Hill tomorrow though, a few other places. I'm pretty sure we will be quite busy all week just checking the obvious places off our list of places to visit, things to do and so on.

Aug 19th 2013

I awoke after about 9 hours sleep, feeling great. Ready to go. I woke Janet up about a hour later. We had a pleasant buffet breakfast at the hotel, then headed out for Winchester Station on the Tube [subway].

The London subway is very clean and efficient. Even the seat cushions are spotless, flush and the floor clean. Apologies are issued over the intercom for a minute delay. Profound apologies for two. It surely puts the Toronto transit to shame.

There was a comic moment on our car when it turned out most everybody was lost. Also from out of town. An ex-Toronto patriot living in London got on at the next stop and explained the transfers we needed to make. Quite funny really. What are the chances of that?

We got off at Winchester Station a few stops later. Walked up into the glare of the sunlight, Big Ben towering above us, the highest of towers among the many tall spirals of the parliament building. The clock bell rang out the hour: 12 noon. 

We met my niece Katrina and her boyfriend Rob. Today they showed us around the parliament building, over to Trafalgar Square for lunch. We enjoyed a very nice sandwich and coffee at a patio restaurant looking out from the shade at the various government buildings, embassies and museums surrounding the square. Ominous dark cumulus clouds rolled overhead from time to time all day but it did not rain. It was a near perfect day for a city walk. Not to hot, nor cool, just right.

From there we walked over to the Canada Gate and Buckingham Castle, gawking at the Queens Palace from outside the fence. We circled back through St. James Park. The huge sprawling lush green trees provided shade by a still lake inhabited with fowl from a wide range of Commonwealth countries. There were Canadian Geese. They have been there since the reign of King Charles. We sat on a park bench under a big willow tree to rest awhile and drink in the summery vista.

We eventually ended up back at the parliament buildings. We sat across the river at an outdoor beer garden watching the long late afternoon shadows creep in across the city. Walked about the parliament building admiring and photographing the tall spirals, the intricate masonry; gargoyles, royal crests and the like. Statues of Cromwell, and King Richard. The walls seemed to turn gold with the final rays of the sun. We made our way back to our hotel near Earls Court Station on the tube without incident shortly after dark.

London calling ...

A very touristy day, I suppose, but how could we go to London England for the first time and not see the sites? Tomorrow we are going on a shopping trip to Camden Market. I'm eager to find some music stores as well. It's all very fast paced and exciting, quite a beautiful, regal city.

Communist Girls ARE More Fun!

Communist Girls ARE More Fun!
See below ...

Communist Girls Are More Fun #1

Communist Girls Are More Fun #1

Communist Grrrls are More Fun #2

Communist Grrrls are More Fun #2

Communist Grrrls Are More Fun #3

Communist Grrrls Are More Fun #3

Communist Girls Are More Fun #4

Communist Girls Are More Fun #4

Art at the Paris Louvre: What does it mean?!?

Art at the Paris Louvre: What does it mean?!?
A careful analytical study!

Help! I Have No Arms!

Help! I Have No Arms!
Please scratch my back.

I can't find my underwear!.

I can't find my underwear!.
Have you seen them!

Weee! I can fly!

Weee! I can fly!
Look! I can crawl thru walls!

I have a headache!

I have a headache!
And a broken nose.

I have a square hole in my bum!

I have a square hole in my bum!

Here try this, it's very good!

Here try this, it's very good!
No. You have a bird face.

I have an ugly baby!

I have an ugly baby!
No I'm not!

Let's save all our money + buy pants!

Let's save all our money + buy pants!
OK but I need a new hand too!

Oh no! I got something in my eye!

Oh no! I got something in my eye!

You don't look well.

You don't look well.
No. My head hurts +I have a sore chest.

Would you like a bun?

Would you like a bun?

Chichen-Itza: Lost Maya City of Ruins!

Chichen-Itza: Lost Maya City of Ruins!
The Temple of Kukulkan!

Gotta love it!

Gotta love it!
Truly amazing!

Under Reconstruction!

Under Reconstruction!

Temples + Snakes!

Temples + Snakes!

The Snake!

The Snake!
It runs the length of the ball field!