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Oyster Stew Click Here To Comment!

Ad for Campbell's Frozen Oyster Stew, circa 1961

Ad for Campbell’s Frozen Oyster Stew, circa 1961

My Mom used to buy Campbell’s Frozen Oyster Stew for us to share at lunch. She didn’t do this often but it was a huge treat when she did. This buttery, creamy, slurpy soup with those funny rubbery fishy bits … I loved it.

This is really an odd sort of choice for my land-locked, Southern Ontario farming Mom. I wonder how she got “hooked” on this soup? Why not, if it is going to be a fishy stew, the more popular and known clam chowder?

Anyway –  I quickly learned to love it too, at a relatively young age. And I do crave it from time to time. It hasn’t been available for years, unfortunately, and I wouldn’t know the first thing about trying to make it from scratch. The only oysters I know of are expensive appetizers in upscale restaurants in Toronto. I suppose there are tinned oysters but I can’t imagine putting them in a soup.

I woke up with this soup on my mind and, alas, had none available. I did have granola, Greek yogurt and a fresh peach so I made do with that.

Granola, yogurt, peach and coffee. An oyster stew substitute?

Granola, yogurt, peach and coffee. An oyster stew substitute?

Eagle’s Nest 2 comments

The hair on the back of my neck stood up on the bus ride up Kehlstein to Eagle’s Nest. There were perhaps three reasons for this.

1. The views … who needs to rent a helicopter to line up aerial shots?!? A lazy cinematographer would only have to take this journey to get a clear sense of what is possible.  I am convinced that the lake in the distance, Lake Konigsee, is the one seen in the opening shots of the Sound of Music when the helicopter comes over the crest of a mountain and looks down on a lake with a boat motoring along, wake lazily spreading out behind. Look in the Ducky shot, off in the distance.

Steady ... steady ...

Steady … steady …

 

2. The place … Hitler’s supposed summer retreat. This would creep any thinking person out.

3. The ride … which compares with almost anything Canada’s Wonderland has to offer. Hairpin turns, lightning speeds, narrow tiny one lane road with no means of accident avoidance, narrow tunnels taken at speed.

To get here, one takes a tour bus from downtown Salzburg to an unnamed spot which I later learn is / was called Berchtesgaden/OberSalzburg. It is actually in Germany, just over the border. More on this later. From this big parking lot/tour bus depot/ticket office/souvenir shop, one boards a specially designed bus, one of six, with upgraded engines and brakes. This is what gets you to Hitler’s parking lot, from which spot one takes the original elevator (not a Schindler, I asked) directly up into the Eagle’s Nest building.

Photo of interior of original elevator, in reflection, showing manufacturer Carl Flohr.

Photo of interior of original elevator, in reflection, showing manufacturer Carl Flohr.

 

We are told on the journey up, by the tour guide, that Hitler hardly ever came to Eagle’s Nest because, ironically, he was afraid of heights. Chickenshit. An Internet factoid, of dubious credibility, suggests that he only visited the place 14 times. Construction was completed in 1938. There are, therefore, seven summers possible that he could have visited, so twice per summer. There is some raw footage on Youtube of Eagle’s Nest in use which I watched after. This is what makes my hair stand on end, still. The footage shows the exact place, practically unchanged, that I just visited. The filmmaker made a vista shot, circa 1939, exactly the same as one I took earlier in the day. It looks, for all the world, like B-roll from the opening credits of the Sound of Music that might have wound up on the cutting room floor.

I typed my initial thoughts on this entry into my iPhone while at the top of Kehlstein. I like that autocorrect consistently likes to change Hitler to either “girl” or “butler”.

One of my burning questions had to do with who was profiting from this rather popular tourist activity.  It turns out that profits from the gift shop, restaurant and bus tours to Eagle’s Nest go to support local schools and charities. No single individual profits from this activity and no single organization is touted. I’m not sure the restaurant even has a name. There is no branding of any kind. The restaurant is marked “Restaurant” and the gift shop is called “Shop”.

I had steadied myself for the creepiness of visiting the heart of nationalism, or of anti-internationalism, if you will. Having Ducky along as a photo buddy helped take some of the creep out. Still, riding in Hilter’s elevator and standing by his fireplace is chilling.  Which brings me to Berchtesgaden/OberSalzberg. It wasn’t until I was reading the materials on the bus on the way back that I realized that the actual summer compound where much time was spent by Hitler, Goring and others was OberSalzburg. The architect confiscated land from local farmers, without compensation, and built a real summer retreat here – right where the buses now jockey for position to transfer tourists from the weak-ass tour buses to the souped up tour buses. The guide didn’t tell us this. On the land was a village of summer homes for Nazi officials, useful facilities, and gathering places. Below ground, there is a complex series of bunkers, facilities and shelters. Allied bombers did some damage to the above ground complex in 1945 as the “American Zone” expanded. The locals blew up all the remaining buildings in 1952 and wrote a local bylaw restricting anyone from owning land or building residential buildings on the site, in perpetuity. With one exception – a small hotel/restaurant was returned to the family from which it was taken by the Nazis when they built the site. It still operates as a hotel/restaurant and is the only remaining entrance to the network of tunnels below surface. We may have driven by it and I wish I’d known to look for it.

Update: So, my Eagle’s Nest visit was yesterday and I had been using my GPS to note the relative location of the “Sound of Music” hill that I had a half-baked plan to visit. “The hill” is hidden behind some farmers’ houses in the middle of almost nowhere on the border of Austria and Germany, on the German side. As we went to/from the Eagle’s Nest, my GPS suggested it was very close, just over one of the mountain peaks perhaps. Turns out it is even closer. 12 km. The Sound of Music “hill” is closer to Hitler’s summer retreat than it is to Nonnberg Abbey, which is 20 km away.

 

Understand or Repeat 2 comments

Of the three purposes of my visit to Austria (Sound of Music / WWII / Mozart), it is Mozart that has gotten short shrift, I’m afraid. I’m headed to Vienna so I expect I’ll rectify that.

The Salzburg Museum has an entire floor dedicated to the times leading to WWI, the war itself from Austria’s point of view, and the aftermath in Austria. Without knowing a bit about WWI, WWII is completely lacking in context. It isn’t until you get to that last bit about what happened to Austria, Germany and other European economies and societies after WWI that the context for the rise of the far right/Nazi movement becomes clear. The war devastated this central part of Europe. People were starving, dying and completely demoralized. They had no particular reason to hope given that the particular depression they were experiencing was underpinned by a new type of class system.  Let me frame that differently – people who worked hard, who existed in a working class space and never expected to struggle beyond the normal challenges of life, who never had ancestors struggle without resources to be self-reliant – these are the people who were in trouble. Consider that generations prior to the industrial revolution trained men (specifically) in skills and trades passed down and valued over centuries. With the industrial revolution, people started to rely on a system not of their own choosing or making rather than relying on themselves. The system failed. In that kind of environment, any voice that comes along to blame someone else (Jews, perhaps?) for your troubles will eventually get air time.

Currently, we do see the rise of the far-right in Europe, and lots of blame-naming (foreigners, perhaps?) and a drive by some countries to isolate from the EU. It seems a relatively small movement, perhaps. Remember that Hitler was laughed off the stage the first few times he tried to get some public traction for his ideas. He had only a handful of followers, at first. But the public context for his views shifted, moreso than his views did. The times changed. The people changed. Economies all over Europe collapsed.

Now? Speaking from a North American perspective, ordinary working people have trouble finding meaningful work, the kind that both satisfies their souls and keeps them in a positive cash flow and a decent standard of living. Low-paying, low-skill jobs keep even experienced workers at entry level work, often at more than one job. Personal and public debt is rising. This makes people scared and vulnerable. Education is becoming positioned for the elite – intellectualism and scientific pursuits are seen, by some in the far-right, as oh so much nonsensical waste of time. A lack of access to education within a general population makes simple political messages have wider appeal.

We, globally, need to tread carefully at this particular juncture in time. Thanks to the recent study tour I had the crazy wonderful opportunity to be on recently, I’m understanding more the true purpose of the European Union, as complex, unwieldy and expensive as it is. The core purpose is the avoidance of war through dialogue and highly structured, regulated interdependence. The rest – economic leverage to participate in a global market, free movement of goods/services, a mobile labour force – is fine print.  A key success factor, pardon the MBA-speak, is maintaining an internationalistic, rather than a nationalistic, perspective.  We need to listen carefully and select out voices that seek to elevate, or isolate, one group or culture of people to the exclusion of all others. We may start hearing more such voices … and we need to remember where such sentiments can lead.

A Failure to Communicate Click Here To Comment!

There is lots to love about Germanic efficiency. For example, the city bus stops have the bus routes numbered and colour-coded. The main bus stops have electronic signs that tell you how many minutes you will wait for your bus. You can count down the minutes and, like clockwork, the bus appears during “0” minute. Very nice.

... but when it stops, nobody knows.

… but when it stops, nobody knows.

I know about 20 words in German – enough to get around without offending people. And everyone seems to have at least 100 words, often much more, in English so it is all good.  I can’t do anything more complex than the pleasantries.

Enter the mildly complex problem of trying to ascertain the arrival of a bus that has no electronic number to indicate its arrival time. Blank screen. It was around 9 p.m. Had the buses stopped running? That didn’t make sense – it wasn’t that late and there were still lots of people around. I thought I’d ask when I bought my ticket. I went into a souvenir/corner shop. The proprietor is of Asian descent:

Prop: (something in German, probably can I help you?)

Me: (smiling) Yes – I’d like to buy a ticket for the bus.

Prop: (smiling) Oh, I don’t sell those. You need to go to cigarette man (pointing).

Me: Ah, ok. Do you know if the buses are still running now?

Prop: (puzzled, stlil smiling) Yes, the buses run right past here. Stop there. (Pointing)

Me: Yes, I know the bus stop. But are they still running now, at night?

Prop: (insistant) Yes, the buses run right past here. Stop there. (Pointing)

Me. OK.Thank you.

Alright, maybe cigarette man will know. No buses had gone by in the last five minutes so I was starting to get concerned. Dodging city buses is a newly acquired Salzburg skill of mine.

Me: Hi – I’d like to buy a ticket for the bus.

CM: (nods)

Me: By the way, have the buses stopped running tonight?

CM: The bus stop is here. (Pointing)

Me: Yes. But are there any more buses stopping here tonight?

CM: (staring at me like I’m an idiot American which is categorically incorrect. I’m a dumbass Canadian.) The bus stop is here. (Pointing)

OK … I’ll just wait here for a while. 🙂 I’ve got lots of time. I’m on vacation.

Magically, the bus appeared within minutes, even though the sign refused to predict this. See what happens when you set my expectations high around efficiency? I now expect consistency!

 

Random Thoughts II – Salzburg Click Here To Comment!

8. Soundscape: Unbelievable.  The glorious cacophony of all these towering bells and glockenspiels, all trying to state the time simultaneously. Dozens, hundreds of languages. Clip clop of horses gently towing the tourist buggies carriages around.  Lots of birds singing, especially around Nonnberg and Miribell Gardens.

9. Don’t Miss It (3): The composer of  my favourite Christmas carol was born in Salzburg.

Silent Night Composer - Joseph Mohr

Silent Night Composer – Joseph Mohr

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10. When is a throne room really a throne room? The Austrians seem to have struggled with the concept of the separation of Church and State. The term “Prince Archbishop” seems to have been thrown around a lot prior to the Napoleonic wars. The creative forces behind the movie Amadeus must have taken character design from the paintings in Festung HohenSalzburg (the big castle) and in the Salzburg Museum. Speaking of that movie, think of Mozart’s father pleading with the Prince Archbishop for his son to be forgiven for some misdemeanour or other. The Prince Archbishop was second only to Emperor Joseph. In any case, the state rooms, at the very very tippy top of the castle overlooking Salzburg, have been left in more or less their orignal condition, mostly wood, ornate and rich designs. But … who wants to go all the way to another floor to do one’s unofficial business? Here is a throne room inside a throne room!!

Throne Room

Random Thoughts – Salzburg Click Here To Comment!

1. Free WIFI: Festung Hohen Salzburg (Salzburg Castle) has free WIFI. Cool!

2. The destitute: There are more panhandlers per square km here than I have ever seen in Toronto or anywhere else.

3. Universität Salzburg has 12,000 students who have to fight through the Sound of Music / Mozart / Music / Photography buffs who roam these tiny streets daily. Most of the students seem to be earnest, serious, clean-shaven young white men riding bicycles. They congregate on street corners in the inner parts of the city, smoking and arguing with each other in emphatic German. The presence of a strong student population makes it possible for the Mozart, Haydn and R. Strauss themes to be juxtaposed with places like Jango, the world music cafe and the Afro Africa Cafe. Aside from this, you’d have to look hard to find a radical counterculture here.

4. Was ist diese Anschluss von dem Sie sprechen? I always thought “anschluss” meant “annexation”. Then I rode around on the Salzburg city buses a while. The automated voice repeatedly says “anschluss”, as it relates to specific stop. “Next Halt – Griesgasse … anschluss, Haupbanhof.” It means “connection”. I couldn’t figure out how bus stops were related to annexation. *facepalm* If Captain Von Trapp were riding the bus, Herr Zeller could say, “If the anschluss is coming, and it is coming Captain … perhaps you’d find your way back to Hotel Bristol if we set the bus connections to music!”

5. Don’t Miss It (1): If you spend too much time staring at the horse fountain in Residenzplatz, you’ll miss the commemoration of the Nazi book-burning in 1938.

Commemorative Plaque - Residenzplatz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6. #1 Leading Cause of Concussions in Salzburg: If you are 5′ 8.5″ tall, and are agog at the interior of St. Peter’s Cathedral, so much so that you stop RIGHT IN FRONT of the door you just came through so you can take a picture … you might get a concussion from the next person coming through the door. There is a sign about this in tiny letters on the door.   See the tiny blue plaque?

See the tiny blue sign?

See the tiny blue sign?

 

 

 

Now, imagine going through this door with no expectation of seeing this …

 

 

 

 

First Glimpse - the Wow Effect

First Glimpse – the Wow Effect

Some football hooligan dude came through the aforementioned door at full speed while I was trying to set up this photo. Ow. He apologized in German or some similar language.

 

 

 

 

But then there was this, so it is ok.

Ducky takes a moment.

Ducky takes a moment

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7. Don’t Miss It (2): If you spend too much time reveling in the magnificence of St. Peter’s section of the city, you may miss that part of it served as the headquarters for the Gestapo in WWII.

Confiscated by Gestapo

Confiscated by Gestapo

The translation, loosely, is something like: This cloister was confiscated by the Gestapo from 1938 to 1945.  In memory of torment, torture and death of (untold?) victims. The City of Salzburg.

 

Continued in next post …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ducky Goes On A Trip Click Here To Comment!

I decided to take my kayaking buddy, Ducky, on this trip to Europe.  She seems to be enjoying herself.

Upon arriving, taking a moment to get organized.

Upon arriving, taking a moment to get organized.

Sock Popping Click Here To Comment!

I have a lot to do today. There are work demands, with deadlines. That has to be addressed so I can tackle publisher demands this weekend, with deadlines. And there is life up here – about 18 inches of snow and ice, in layers, that need to be removed from the upper deck today before the big melt tomorrow. Otherwise, it will all melt against the brick and wood construction which can cause bad things to happen over time. Icicles have to come down so they don’t fall down and do damage.

upper deck in winter

Snow on upper deck, January 10, 2014

And I get to fetch, feed and entertain children today while Knotty Girl is off in the city, painting.

I was thinking about all this as I popped open a pair of fluffy thick socks this a.m. Popped open? What do you call it when you unfold socks that have been folded into a nice neat ball?

Anyway, the act of sock popping gave me a moment of nostalgia. There is a moment that happens in early fall most years. The moment when, after three or four months of not wearing socks, it is time to put socks on again. And it is a bit sad but also a bit comforting, the feeling of protecting feet with something soft and warm for the first time in a long time. The act of transitioning to a new season, a change of gears, as signified by socks.

I’ve just come off a time of relative calm in my work life, transitioning into what looks like a busy time. It is a gear shifting. I didn’t want the moment to pass without note.

I have fluffy socks to pop and cushion my feet. I’m ready.

Rags Click Here To Comment!

In Grade 12, I wrote a paper on Scott Joplin for music class. I had to do a great deal of research on it and it is the first topic I remember getting seriously “hooked” on, from a research perspective, other than WWII.

I spent more time on that paper than anything else I did that year. I spent hours reading every book I could get my hands on that was remotely related to music in the US at the turn of the 19th/20th Century. And, of course, I read about Scott Joplin specifically. I have only the vaguest recollection now of the specific details of his story but I have clear and distinct memories of my emotional reaction to the tragedy of his story. The raw, clear expression of talent that would not be suppressed vs. extreme social forces working against that talent. At times, I wept while listening to multiple interpretations of almost every piece he wrote, the popular and the obscure. I disliked the “hot dog” speed demons who turned these gems into blurry races of music. To me, his compositions are not meant to be played even briskly – the subtlety is lost. Played slowly, to me, the pain and knife’s edge place between brilliance and subservience that Joplin lived in for most of his life just cry out.  Back in the day, I settled in on Joshua Rifkin as my favourite interpreter for his slower, contemplative tempos and his ability to pull the emotional centre out of the music.

I listened and I wept. I still have that paper somewhere and, to this day, a slow, careful interpretation of Joplin’s best can really get me. The guy wrote all this material, was famous, to a degree, yet died in relative poverty, pain and obscurity with much of his best work unseen and unstaged.

So I’m writing this big, completely unrelated, report for work and there are numbers, charts and graphs spinning around my head most of the day. It has been said that music without lyrics is best for concentration so I’ve turned back to one of my original research subjects, Master Joplin, for background music and, still, some interpretations catch me off guard, right in that soft spot. When that happens, I have to stop writing for a moment and just listen.

Researching that Scott Joplin paper would be so different now. There are so many online resources and oh so many options for listening and comparing versions of specific pieces. YouTube is a treasure trove. There are other Joplin aficionados out there, imagine that, and some have put together amazing playlists of a variety of performers and versions. It is mind boggling. There are different variations of his story out there and debates about what happened, when, to whom. I haven’t had time to read all this – I’ve just been listening as I attempt to piece together decidedly non-musical data, attempting to turn it into useful information.

Here is Rifkin’s rendition of Solace, complete with pops and crackles from the vinyl.

 

 

The Drive Click Here To Comment!

There are multiple routes to get from The PostCard to my workplace, in the extreme east end of Toronto. On the best driving day, with no construction, traffic volume issues, weather, detours or gas/coffee stops, it is one hour, 50 minutes. This, of course, depends on the route taken and I’ve discovered many “new” routes and, each time, I insist that the route is “shorter”.

Technically, this may be true. The new routes get “shorter” but the time to destination keeps getting longer. The “new” routes zig zag past farm land, rolling hills, small towns, villages, hamlets, french fry trucks, abandoned farm equipment, antique shops … a myriad of distractions. I find the “new” routes so much more interesting, especially during dramatic seasonal changes when the landscape seems to shift before my eyes.  Right now, we are changing gears from a coolish summer to a gorgeous fall and the colours, the angle of the light, can be breathtaking.

Of course, I find these views, and the act of driving through them, nostalgic as all heck. When you are raised out in the country and you are also an active young person, involved in lots of extra curricular activities, you spend a lot of time driving places to do the things you are interested in. My Mom drove me everywhere. I remember early morning band practices, with the mist rising off the fields and creeks in the semi-dark. I remember navigating countless snowstorms to get to hockey tournaments. Driving in to the city every other Saturday to visit Grandma. Being dropped off or picked up at the school for newspaper, theatre projects, or some event or other. Driving great distances to get to do something, and then driving home, was part of my “culture”, growing up. As soon as I got my license, I was in charge of driving myself, for the most part. Long drives through the night from the community almost an hour north where I taught guitar one night a week.  Driving with my buddies into the city for a movie night from time to time – a huge treat.

As a younger passenger, there might have been a book to read or a crossword puzzle but there were certainly no electronic pacifiers for these drives. There was looking out the window, noticing changes and commenting on them. Riding along was a time to think about things, to sort through whatever pre-teen or teen emotional angst was current. I remember sitting beside my mother, countless times, in my sullen mopey way, rolling  my eyes at some bit of wisdom or observation she may have had which was, from my perspective, clearly out of touch with reality and definitely NOT COOL. I remember feeling, as a driver, all grown up when I was able to safely get myself – and often my friends – from activity to activity. That certainly felt cool.

My brothers are both drivers of long distances as well. When my nieces and nephews were in school, 2.5 hours from the community where they were raised, it was nothing for my brother and sister-in-law to drop everything, drive down to them and take them out to dinner or something and drive back. My other brother will drive hours north to “his” jointly owned fishing lodge to do engine maintenance or to fix something. Two of my nieces decided to start a main street, touristy summer business in Grand Bend, a daily one hour one way drive for 12 hour shifts. We, in our family, drive a lot and don’t seem to mind it.

This week has been one of the harder ones to manage, schedule wise, but it has worked out okay. I wound up staying in NewMarket after my Tuesday night hockey game at a funny little motel I discovered at the north end. It is clean, feels safe and inexpensive (I think I’m getting a deal now), and has a free breakfast. So, I can get up very early, hit the road home for the last hour and 15 minutes and be in front of my computer screen by 9 a.m., ready to go. On Wednesday morning, I tried to avoid the mass exodus of people going south on the 404 and took Old Yonge St. north to Mount Albert Road. This took me on a narrow road though some picturesque valleys with the requisite mist softening the sunrise. It was really gorgeous.

I came home last night from a work/social event and arrived in pretty good time, about 10:20 p.m. Driving through the inky dark night, zig-zagging through the rural back roads of Ontario, having time to quietly process all that is current or pressing in my life, listening to an audio book or CBC … it doesn’t feel at all like a burden or waste of time. It feels normal and necessary. I’m glad to have some ability to negotiate the timing of the driving and I am often overcome with gratitude for the generous and welcoming friends who let me stay with them in Toronto on the nights when the drive isn’t negotiable.  But the drive itself? Sometimes … to me … it is one of the most magical parts of living out the city.

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