MOZART AND MAHLER IN THE MORNING

What a glorious morning!

There’s a lot I love about living in Downtown Calgary. This was the view that greeted me on my daily river walk this morning. Then, less than three hours later, I attended The Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra’s open rehearsal of Mahler’s Symphony No. 7 in E Minor, and Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major K. 219.

Morning

I recently joined the Calgary Association for Lifelong Learners (CALL) and for the grand sum of $10, and from a prime seat, I was able to watch the full rehearsal for tonight’s performance. I’ve been to the CPO many times, but there was something very special about seeing the musicians in their jeans, t-shirts, hoodies and baseball hats, (rather than their usual funereal black) their mugs of Tim Horton’s coffee on the floor beside them, that brought a relaxed joy to the performance. Fascinating, too, to watch the musicians making notes on their sheet music throughout as the conductor tweaked things so that everything will be perfect for tonight.

I might have ‘studied’ music back in High School, but that was a long time ago. I’m not really familiar with Mahler’s music and certainly not this symphony.  Composed in 1904-05, the performance notes reveal that ‘in 1905, the oars that were rowing his (Mahler’s) boat across an Alpine lake suggested a rhythm and character for the opening theme of the first movement’.

James Ehnes was the guest violinist for the Mozart Concerto and what magic he wove. The video below isn’t from today’s performance but one I grabbed from Youtube.

As the song says, Oh, what a beautiful morning!

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Shakespeare By The Bow – The Tempest

We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep.

I’ve always found this quote by Shakespeare both inspiring and comforting, so it was wonderful to hear it spoken aloud yesterday evening at Theatre Calgary’s production of The Tempest, performed in an outdoor setting amongst the trees of Prince’s Island Park.

Shakespeare By The Bow – formerly Shakespeare In The Park – is a quarter-of-a-century old Calgary tradition, giving newly graduated drama students the opportunity to practise their skills under the direction of a professional theatre company.

And flex those acting muscles they certainly did last night, with performances that were energetic, funny, thoughtful, considered and assured.

And magical.

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With a female Prospera replacing the traditional male Prospero, the setting was perfect and the costumes inspired. The audience captured all ages. (And species! I spied a few dogs there too.) Many audience members had come prepared with blankets, deck chairs and picnic baskets, while others, cyclists and joggers out for a run, or families out for an evening stroll, stopped to take in the entertainment.

This is the final week for Shakespeare By The Bow  – it ends on Sunday 16th – and I highly recommend taking a trip down to Prince’s Island Park to catch one of their final performances.  Please check out Theatre Calgary’s website for further information.

Wartime Rations – Day Eleven

When I was looking through Marguerite Patten‘s recipe book We’ll Eat Again yesterday for sandwich fillings, I noted a recipe for Potato Rarebit.

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Potato Rarebit. Recipe from We’ll Eat Again by Marguerite Patten.

(Use mashed potatoes as a basis for a rarebit. Beat the potatoes until soft and smooth; add a little milk if too stiff. The potatoes should be like thick cream. Put in as much grated cheese as you can spare, with seasoning to taste. Spread on hot toast and brown under the grill.)

I had some mashed potatoes (with chopped bacon and leek) left over from a couple of days ago, so I thought I’d give it a try. Surprisingly, it was very good, and with some homemade coleslaw on the side, very filling.

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Stewed Sausages with carrots and leek.

For dinner tonight, I had a favourite from when I was growing up – stewed sausages – accompanied by the rest of the leftover mashed potatoes and brussels sprouts. It’s a really easy meal to make. Fry the sausages in a little fat, add leeks and carrots, add some stock (or cider if you’d prefer), cover and simmer until veggies are cooked.

Checking out what was making news in The Calgary Herald for October 16th, 1944, (15 pages today) I found the following:

Field Marshall Edwin Rommel (The Desert Fox) had ‘Died of Wounds’ the German newspapers reported. Hitler had ordered a state funeral for him.  (In fact, we now know the wounds he died of were from his forced suicide. Rommel had been injured on July 17th, 1944 when the RAF strafed his car. However it was his ‘defeatist’ attitude that angered Hitler and he was forced to commit suicide.)

Canadian Veterans were being offered post-war opportunities either in vocational training or educational opportunities. Fees would be paid, and $60 per month given to a single man/woman, or $80 per month to a man with a wife. Additional allowances were available if the couple had children. The programme was available for ‘period of service to a maximum of one year – but can be extended’. Disabled vets received special consideration, their right to training being ‘continuous’.

In New York on Saturday night, Frank Sinatra was hit by an egg as he sang ‘I Don’t Know Why‘ at the Paramount Theatre.

According to Gallup, with the US Presidential election only 3 weeks ago, Roosevelt had 51% of the poll while Dewey had 49% – with an error of 3-4%.

The Personal section was fascinating, operating as a kind of 40s Facebook, with notification of various members of the public returning home from holiday or weekends in Camrose, Banff and Brooks, and of members of the forces coming home on leave. For example: Miss Lucille Allen left this morning for Denver, Colorado, to visit her parents.

An advertisement for Safeway itemised the following foods which people living under rationing Britain could only dream out:
MacKintosh Red apples: 5lbs – 23c: 35lb bag – $1.59
Tomatoes: 19 c per lb
Grapes: 17c per lb
Grapefruit: 21c per 2lbs
Jam: 31c per 2 lb jar
Sirloin steak: 38c per lb
Chickens: 32c per lb

Max Telling, 40, a German POW, escaped from a German POW farm project near Namaka by stealing a truck which was recovered in Calgary. Telling, 5’6″ tall, fair, with wavy hair was wearing a blue/grey suit and blue shirt. He left a thank-you note in the truck thanking the owner for its use. (!!)

An eyewitness account of the gassing and cremation of 4,000 Jewish children in the German concentration camp at Birkenau was given today in a London dispatch. It quoted the letter of a Polish woman imprisoned in the camp for 7 months who was later transferred to a Warsaw prison from which the letter was smuggled out.

Creating an Outline – Linda Shaikh

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Artwork: Linda Shaikh

I recently had the great pleasure of attending Calgary artist Linda Shaikh’s exhibition, ‘Finding Voice’.

It was a stunning display. With a mixture of paintings consisting of bold, brash strokes, followed by others which whisper ethereal colours fading into beyond, she draws the eye into the heart of her work.

But as you step closer to examine the images more thoroughly, you discover all is not as it seems.

What you are actually viewing in her paintings are her research, brainstorming, outlines and even chapter synopses for her PhD thesis. Linda is currently exploring ways to give the disadvantaged in our society a voice. As a visual artist, she has found a unique way of transferring words and ideas into art, which she then transforms back into words and fully realized concepts.

Artwork: Linda Shaikh

Take these three images. The first illustrates her initial thoughts and ideas for her thesis. The second, her first outline. In the bottom left hand corner of the third, she’s written down some of the basic concepts of the various philosophers she studied, with questions regarding those ideas radiating outwards.

As I made my way around the exhibition, I thought about the different ways that we, as writers, brainstorm and outline our work: traditional index cards; the use of Powerpoint slides to keep notes and images; visual story boards containing pictures of our main characters and the places they live; long rolls of wall paper which can be rolled out on the floor or stuck on the wall so you can see every scene in one place.

And how many of us create special playlists of music for each project to get us into the mood and settle us in our stories? How many of us go for walks to let our minds wander free and the ideas to flow. I have one writer friend who has discovered she crochets an afghan with each book she writes, the colours subconsciously reflecting scenes, images or emotions in her book.

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Artwork: Linda Shaikh

Looking at all these beautiful paintings and their words, it got me wondering if this could be a method some of us might adopt to brainstorm and outline our stories. “Hmmm,” I can hear you say, “but I’m no painter. I couldn’t do that.” And I totally buy that. Something Linda and I discussed at the exhibition was that when asked to draw a bird, most adults will draw a simple double ‘v’ shape, whereas when we were young we painted multicoloured feathers and beaks. We weren’t afraid to take risks.

So here’s an idea. If you’re having trouble with your story or are at the brain storming stage, how about buying a cheap roll of paper and some paints (finger/poster or acrylic – it doesn’t matter), then roll the paper out on the floor or hang it on the wall and start to have some fun.

Look at these two examples of Linda’s chapter outlines. The first shows the details of that particular section. The second shows how the mass of ideas (and colours) develop, the colours taking on a simpler, lighter, calmer feel as the outline develops and reaches its conclusion.

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Artwork: Linda Shaikh

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Artwork: Linda Shaikh

To get you started, what about looking at your roll of paper in three-act-structure form? As writers we know that ¾ of the way through the story there needs to be a black moment, so paint in a wide black streak either with a brush, or with your hands. (Very often something tactile releases an idea in your brain.) Half way through is the Point of No Return where you character is not quite who they will be at the end, but something happens here to make them more of who they will be rather than who they were. Maybe you introduce the hint of a new colour here that will grow stronger as you continue towards the end of the story, while colours you used in the beginning start to fade.

In a romance novel, the midpoint is usually a kiss or sex scene, so what about a bold scarlet or gold stripe here?

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Artwork: Linda Shaikh. Extract from Image #1

What if you have a child in your story? How about including their hand print throughout to remind you of their role?

Once you have the bold strokes of colour of your basic outline and turning points, maybe then is the time to go back and add the detail, whether it is more delicate shadings, writing on the paper, or a collage of notes or images you’ve collected through the brainstorming phase. Once that’s done, you will then start to see the chapters appear.

And when you’re finished, don’t end with a neat line. Let the paper continue to flow and curl as Linda does because, while your story might end, your characters’ lives will continue.

Harold and Emma McGill – A WW1 Love Story

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Photo – Diana Cranstoun

Harold McGill and Emma Griffis, a doctor and nurse from Calgary, made an unlikely pair – he was shy and reserved while she was outgoing – but when Harold signed up to serve on The Western Front in 1915, he asked Emma to write to him. Emma also joined the Canadian army as a Nursing Sister in 1917 and was stationed in England. The couple married in December 1917, returning to Calgary after the war.

Sadly, Emma’s letters no longer exist, but Harold’s are safe in the archives at the Glenbow Museum in Calgary and can be viewed online. They tell a fascinating story;  aspects of war you rarely find in the history books blended with a tenderly unfolding love story.

Some of Harold’s descriptions of the battlefield – the guns growling, a shower of shells, night as dark as a wolf’s mouth – are chillingly evocative. And when he talks about standing in a trench at midnight on New Year’s Eve 1915 to watch the old year out and witness the blast of artillery fire from all the batteries announcing the birth of 1916… well it makes the hairs on the back of your neck prickle.

He talks about their rotation through the trenches; 6 days in the trenches – where they must sleep in their clothes and only remove their boots to change their socks – followed by 6 days in the brigade reserve, followed by another 6 days in the trenches, then 6 welcome days in divisional reserve billets where they have the opportunity to rest up before the whole process starts over again.

The gas alerts when the wind blows in from the east.

How ‘one smokes a lot at this game’.

A regimental dinner held in a convent.

The daily rum ration when in the trenches.

Having to go for 15 days without changing his clothes followed by the sheer joy of a hot bath and clean bed.

But it’s the love story that is the most touching. He starts off addressing Emma as Dear Miss Griffis and signs off Sincerely yours. Following his proposal of marriage in July 1917, that changes to My dear Emma and ends Yours truly. And after their marriage in December that year, it’s My Dear Wife from Your loving husband.

His concern when he discovers she’s assigned to the ‘lungers‘ ward at Bramshott Military Hospital in England, and his ‘mortal terror of TB which is more deadly than Fritz’s trench mortars’.

He makes an interesting comment about how men approach married life. ‘Usually when a man asks a woman for the privilege of making her everlastingly happy,” he writes, “what he really wants is for her to make him happy and worship him as a tin God.”

Only after they became engaged, when he was on leave in England in July 1917, do they really start learning about each other. He tells her he has an older brother and two younger sisters (one of whom, Margaret, is also serving in France) and that his parents died within 10 days of each other when Margaret was only 15.

There is so much more. I can only offer a sliver of the richness of his letters here and encourage you to click on the link at the top of the page and check them out yourself. As to why her letters didn’t survive… Harold offers the intriguing hint that he would ‘love to keep them’ but it is ‘difficult on active service’ and he must ‘burn them’.

 

Research

My main area of historical interest is World War Two. I’m fascinated by it – perhaps because there were still air raid shelters around to play in when I was growing up in Glasgow. And I can still clearly remember my Dad pulling on his old army overalls and beret before climbing underneath Mum’s car when it needed fixed.

So when I heard about a two-day symposium on The Great War being offered at the Military Museum here in Calgary, I hummed and hawed before deciding to sign up. It’s not ‘my’ time period.

But I’m glad I did.

Here’s what I learned.

1) Two days and 25 papers later, I probably know more about Alberta in WWI than most of my native-born Albertan/Canadian friends.

2) As a writer, ANYTHING you learn is invaluable. Everything can be adapted to add depth, texture and veracity to your writing.

3) More importantly, if you write anything inaccurate in your novel, someone somewhere will pick up on it. And when they do, it will pull them out of the story. From then on they will question everything else you say. Pull a reader out of your story and you’ve lost them.

No matter what you’re writing about, please – please – make sure your facts are sound.

 

Calgary Zoo

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Photo by David Smith. The Calgary Zoo.

My husband and I were talking about zoos a while back. When he was young, whenever they went on holiday, his father always took the family to visit the nearest zoo. Whether it was Germany or France or England, it was just one of those things they ‘did’.

Me? Not so much. I’ve visited 4 zoos in my life; Edinburgh, London, Toronto and Calgary. What do I remember most about the first two? Remember, this was a loooong time ago and things have changed greatly in the past few (ahem!) decades, but boy did they smell. And even back then, my young self hated seeing the animals pacing back and forth, trapped in their barred cages.

Because of those memories, I think I only took my own kids to the zoo once or twice when they were growing up. Oh, I’ve been plenty of times since then in the winter to visit Zoolights, but never to go and see the animals.

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Calgary Flood 2013. The Calgary Zoo.

So when it was suggested I go to the zoo with my (now all grown-up) kids and granddaughter a few weeks ago, my expectations weren’t too high. Particularly because the Calgary Zoo, situated on an island in the middle of the Bow River, was badly damaged by the flood that hit Calgary in June last year.

My first impression on this visit? Extremely favourable. It didn’t smell at all!!  Probably because the animals are no longer housed in cages but in large indoor/outdoor enclosures where they can move around and socialize. The zoo is divided into different areas, some of which include: Destination Africa, Eurasia, Canadian Wild and the Penguin Plunge. Each area has a concession area and play park, so if your child gets a bit antsy, you can sit and enjoy a cup of coffee while they burn off excess energy on the equipment.

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Photo by David Smith. The Calgary Zoo.

How did my granddaughter enjoy it?  She’s not quite three yet, so she was a bit intimidated by the larger animals. What really fascinated her were the birds, especially the flamingoes. She sat and stared at them for ages, completely enthralled.

How did her grandmother enjoy it? I think watching her is what started changing my mind about the concept of zoos. Until now I’ve always been a bit uncomfortable that we cage animals, even in generous enclosures, for our entertainment. Why not leave them in the wild and just watch them on TV?

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Photo by David Smith. The Calgary Zoo.

But maybe it’s only when you get up close to an animal, watch how it behaves, look into its eyes and witness its unique beauty, intelligence, heart and soul, that you can really appreciate it. Really understand how precious animals are to our world and how we must treasure and protect them in the wild.

So if you have kids (or even if you haven’t) and are visiting Calgary, why not add a visit to the zoo to your itinerary.

Calgary Zoo, you’re doing a great job. My granddaughter and I will be back.

Often.