Iceland

We visited Iceland for 10 days in July. Above are a few photos I selected to send to my granddaughter who is 3 going on 7 and intensely involved in our holiday. Did you see a volcano? A geyser? A waterfall? A glacier? Are there trolls there?

She asked her preschool teacher to show her where Iceland was on the globe. Think her mother put her up to that… My first encounter with a map happened at the front of a class of kids I didn’t know – 3rd grade in a new school… But that is to digress…

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Politics is pretty depressing these days. Envy that infectious child-like innocence.

French, and Global, Fascism

Fascism - Webster's 1960 Unabridged
The word fascism as Webster’s defined it in 1960

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I love going back to my 1960 giant, two-volume edition of Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary. I picked it up at an auction in 1972. We were mainly there to get inexpensive furnishings for our apartment in Toronto, having just moved here from Cheshire, U.K. Check out the hand-drawn illustration that shows fascism’s Latin root to mean bundle!

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Then:

Italy seemed to coin the term, fascism; it first appeared with the arrival of Mussolini’s fascisti on the world scene in 1919. A crazy fact: for Mussolini, fascism was a good word. Nazi Germany and Franco’s Falangists were later included in this list of despicable regimes. In 2017 we carelessly throw the word around at anyone we do not like.

Fascism’s Common features in 1960:

  1. One party dictatorship
  2. Forcible suppression of the opposition (unions, other groups)
  3. Private, centralized control of the means of production
  4. Nationalism
  5. Liberal use of wars
  6. Racism

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France Today:

By presenting the above list of six characteristics, Webster’s definition made “fascism” a very specific term.

I think that France’s Front National (FN), led by Marine Le Pen qualifies for only two of the above six: nationalism and, particularly hateful for someone like me, married to a black woman, racism.

The FN does not propose forcible suppression of, for example, trade unions. In fact, it seems to be in favour of the little citizen with, until recently, a fervent, detestable preference for little white citizens.

Not many governments on this planet today, including France, could claim national control/ownership of their own means of production.

And the FN seems to be inclined not to favour the liberal use of wars. Continue reading “French, and Global, Fascism”

Caring for the Soul of Syria

Windows of the Soul, Damascus

I can’t write about Damascus without feeling jasmine climbing upon my fingers…

I can’t utter its name without tasting the juice of apricot, pomegranate, mulberry, and quince…

Can’t remember it without sensing a thousand doves perched on the wall of my memory, and another one thousand flying…

I am haunted by Damascus even when I am not residing there…

Its ancestors are buried inside me, its neighborhoods intersect above my body…
Its cats love, marry, and leave their kittens with me…

Do not ask for my identity card, I am a hundred percent Damascene, like wheat, plums, and pomegranates. Like brocade, Aghbani and Damasco. Like copper pitchers, and the armoires decorated with mother of pearl; all of which are part of my history and the trousseau of my mother…

A tree of Arabian jasmine that my mother left on my window, its white moons grow every year…

by Nizar Qabbani

The magnificent, deeply touching poem, Windows of the Soul, Damascus, was written by the great Syrian poet, Nizar Qabbani (1923-1998). The video in the above link is a reading in Arabic of the poem. The photography is truly uplifting.  It was published by a group of Syrian students on their website called Syrian Students for a better future studying at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

I heard part of this poem quoted by the inspiring Ghada Alatrash on the podcast, Saving Syria – Keeping War-torn Culture Alive by CBC Radio’s Ideas. This podcast was produced by Naheed Mustafa. I was hooked by the podcast’s introduction, featuring Maamoun Abdulkarim‘s heroic fight to save thousands of irreplaceable Palmyra treasures from Islamic State destroyers and moved to tears by the music, poetry and stories of tragedy and hope that followed, from contributors Ghada Alatrash, Alia Malek and the music of Aya Mhana.

Oh, how a special place like Syria, in so many present, ancient and artistic ways, shows the best we can be as a gifted, precarious, human “episode” of the history of Mother Earth – a true reason to keep hope alive.

Newfoundland 2005.7 “God Guard Thee, Newfoundland”

The Arches Park, n. of Rocky Harbour
Tuesday, July 26: Englee, Arches and back to Rocky Harbour

Englee is a beautiful little community about 2 1/2 hours south of St. Anthony on the east coast. The drive from Englee to Rocky Harbour is another 4 1/2 hours. St. Anthony to Rocky Harbour is 4 1/2 hours, so our Englee visit added about 2 1/2 hours of driving to our Tuesday. If you climb up the long steps on Barr’d Island, you’ll be treated to one of the most beautiful views in the world – i.e. it was worth the extra driving.

We then drove back to Rocky Harbour, stopping at Arches Provincial Park for some more beautiful scenery. Our last, since we were flying home from Deer Lake on Wednesday at 15:15. We visited the Cemetery and the Lighthouse in Rocky Harbour before we left for Deer Lake Airport, about 55 minutes from Rocky Harbour on NL 430 South. Returning the car at the airport was very smooth. Boy, did we get our money’s worth out of that car!

Wednesday, July 27: Home to the GTA

One more heartwarming story about Newfoundland. We checked our bags at the airport. Then security noticed my Swiss Army Knife on my person. I thought, “I’ll be sorry; I’ve had it for a long time.” But they offered me the chance to put it back in my suitcase, which meant retrieving it from the storage area.

Now, a real treat for reading down to the bottom. A Newfoundland language lesson!!! With Mark Critch, Candice Walsh and Travel Yourself.

I will return there. That’s a promise. Note: I kept my promise, returning there in 2014.

God guard thee, Newfoundland!

Newfoundland 2005.6 – Vikings and Low Growing Trees

On our way to L’Anse aux Meadows
 Monday, July 25: L’Anse Aux Meadows Viking Settlement and the Burnt Cape Ecological Reserve

The L’Anse Aux Meadows Viking Settlement is more than 1000 years old. The original French name for the place, found on a French nautical chart from 1862, was L’Anse à la Médée (The Médée’s Cove). There may indeed have been a ship called La Médée, since it was not uncommon to use Greek mythology when naming them. See the above link for more about its franglais roots, and for more about the Settlement. It needs no further description. Here are some photos:

Busted!

I am inclined to cram a touring day really full of experiences. An ‘orrible vice, I know. I was attempting to turn a legal 45 minute drive from the Viking Settlement to the Burnt Cape Ecological Reserve into an illegal 33 minute trip (wasn’t sure when the guided tour hours were) and was stopped for speeding on the way.

The officer: “Do you, perchance, know why you were stopped?”

Me: “Yes, Officer.”

Officer: “And are you aware that your speed was more than 20 kph faster than the speed limit?”

Me: “Er… no, Officer, Sir.”

Officer: “Are you from away?”

Me: “Yes.” Big trouble coming, I thought.

Officer: “Don’t let me catch you speeding again.”

He handed me a written warning instead of a ticket and let us go. Again, the delightful mercy and grace of these island people surprised and overwhelmed me.

Burnt Cape:

Burnt Cape is a hugely important botanical reserve. It contains rare plants that are not found anywhere else. Trees over a hundred years old grow out rather than up (less than a foot up!) because of the biting winds. We were taken on a superb interpretive tour. Our guide also told us of a time when she had a group out to see the rock formations near The Oven and a polar bear appeared below them that had swum from Labrador. The visitors had no clue how dangerous it was and were snapping photos.

Sound familiar? Like anyone we know?

She was preparing to abandon them, if necessary, and run for her own life but managed to persuade them to make a hasty, sensible retreat. Some photos:

Newfoundland 2005.5 – North to St. Anthony

 

We started this trail to Phillips Garden at Port aux Choix, but bailed when we realized we didn’t have enough time.
Sunday, July 24: Port Au Choix, St. Barbe and St. Anthony

Port aux Choix

From Rocky Harbour the drive north to St. Anthony is 347 km.,  north along the west coast. Our first stop was to visit the Port au Choix National Historic Site. Different again, informative (there is an excellent interpretive centre with many fascinating historic displays, letters and artefacts) and, yes, it’s drop dead gorgeous. We were feeling so uniquely isolated that we decided to try and phone our eldest daughter at our home in Ontario. Success! So cool! Kindly ignore the flip phone…

St. Barbe Ferry Port

We also went off the main road to grab a bite and check out St. Barbe, a little further north, where one takes the ferry to Blanc-Sablon, Labrador.

St. Anthony

Then we drove on to St. Anthony and visited the Sir Wilfred Grenfell Interpretation Centre, dedicated to St. Anthony’s truly great medical missionary, who graduated in Medicine in London, England in 1888 and four years later volunteered to come to Newfoundland. He was recruited by The Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen (RNMDSF) to care for the fishermen and communities here. Grenfell’s work expanded to include helping the indigenous peoples of Newfoundland and Labrador. He sometimes traveled in a hospital ship to serve the huge, diverse and far-flung community. By 1914 his mission was world famous and a charitable society, the International Grenfell Association, was formed because of influence from a group of New York businessmen who wished to advance his work. A concise description of the history of Grenfell’s life and of both the RNMDSF and IGF, is given at the above IGF link. Both the British Mission, serving 70 UK ports, and the St. Anthony-based IGF are still going today!

We stayed at the Haven Inn in St. Anthony for two nights. On Monday we planned to visit the Viking Settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows.

Now, there’s a screwed up franglais name for a ninth century Nordic village! So typically Canadian.

Sorry…

Newfoundland 2005.4 – À Cap St.-Georges et Gros Morne

Western Brook Pond from the dock
Western Brook Pond, seen from the cruise boat dock.

Friday, July 22: To Cap St.-Georges and Rocky Harbour

Cap St.-Georges

Our first leg was from Twillingate, via the Trans Canada Highway, all the way to Cap St. George on the southwest coast. We wanted to visit a French community in Newfoundland and maybe see some whales. We sort of struck out on both those goals. It was, perhaps, a little late for whale season and decades late for parlez-vous season. We stopped at a Tourist Information office near Port Au Port and learned that the French-speaking information person was from Québec.

After the bilingual TI Centre we visited Our Lady Of Mercy Church in Port au Port and then drove to the Parc Boutte Du Cap  at the very tip of the peninsula. It amazed me to see big RV’s allowed to boondock in the unserviced parking lot. Just another way in which Newfoundland is so welcoming to visitors. Totally laid back and generous.

We drove back north and stayed in Rocky Harbour at the Fisherman’s Landing Inn where Maxxum had us reserved for two nights.

Saturday, July 23: Gros Morne, Two Rather Gigantic “Ponds”

This was a busy day. We drove a short way north and visited Gros Morne walking to the dock at Western Brook Bond and taking the boat tour.

A colleague of Anita’s at home had said we must also visit Trout River Pond, around the bay from Western Brook Pond but still in Gros Morne National Park. Someone we met on the first tour had done it and raved about it. So we carped the diem and drove back south, past Rocky Harbour and took a boat tour of Trout River Pond, which we found terrific.

Western Brook Pond:

A few, fit folk got off the boat at the steep end of the pond, planning to hike up (no doubt) to get that iconic photo with their arms outstretched standing on a scary-looking rock overlooking the whole pond from west to east.

Now the photos of the Pond: Very deep, very steep, and ultra, ultra clean:

Trout River Pond:

This is an exceptional UNESCO World Heritage site. The geology of the exposed features of reddish rock dates back to when two continents – Africa and North America – collided about 300 million years ago… give or take… the same collision that formed the Appalachian and Allegheny Mountains. Our boat tour, appropriately called A Journey Through Time, explained so much to us. The “pond” is full of fishy life and we saw a female moose in a forested area near the shore.

We ate a simple supper in a very nice family restaurant in Trout River.

We did not have time to investigate the science beyond what we learned on the boat. But we returned in 2014 with friends, visited the fantastic information kiosk and toured the tablelands with an experienced naturalist. Add some time to your holiday to see this unique area properly!