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Pangnirtung fjord

Pangnirtung fjord

My sweet travelling companion and I caught last Thursday’s late night redeye from Vancouver to Ottawa, via Toronto, through Iqaluit to Pangnirtung, only a bit painful because we were on our way Somewhere Wonderful. A brief stop in each airport, just long enough to find our way to the appropriate check-in.

We didn’t know yet but several of the people on the flight from Ottawa to Iqaluit would become our flightmates all the way through to Pangnirtung, some would become our dining companions and one poor soul would voluntarily evacuate his room so that we’d have a place to stay.

On arrival to the flight strip in Pang, everyone and no one had arrived to meet us. Looking back, we could have asked any number of people for a lift to our lodging as I recognized one man by his voice, another from his picture. While not there specifically for us, both kindly offered to take us where we needed to go – Hannah’s Homestay. The story was that 78-year-old great grandmother Hannah Tautuajuk ran a warm and friendly boarding house from her home and when I’d called her a month earlier she assured me she had no boarders in July and that all I needed to do was show up.

Liliana and I piled our bags into the back of a dusty 4×4 and were driven by Jason, an east coaster who arrived in Pang a year ago and now works at the hamlet office, across the labyrinthine paths that make up the roads of Pang. No street names but every house has a number.

We arrived at Hannah’s, number 765, and knocked on the door. No answer. Knocked harder. “Maybe she’s sleeping,” said Jason. Knocked again. It was pretty clear to all that no one was home.

We piled ourselves and our bags back into the truck and drove around a bit. Perhaps her daughter Julia was at the clinic where she sometimes worked. She wasn’t. What about the GN office where she also occasionally worked? (GN? Government of Nunavut, informed Jason.) Not there either.

We returned to Jason’s room at the hamlet office. I could imagine he deeply regretted having offered us a ride. Where would this mother-daughter-duo stay? He offered, perhaps reluctantly, “You can always stay at our place,” referring to the home he shared with others.

There’s also a modest hotel in Pangnirtung, known as The Lodge, where the business and government folk stay, run by the colourful Quebecois Louis Robilliard. Jason called over to the Lodge and said he was bringing us over. Louis too was not terribly overjoyed to see the two of us as his establishment was already full. He too telephoned Hannah, Julia, their home, their cell phones. Nothing. He disappeared out his back door for a few minutes, then returned.

Come with me. We did. There was one of the guys from the plane, hastily packing up and moving in with his buddy in the adjoining room. They’d be sharing a room, it turned out, so that Liliana and I had somewhere to sleep.

The guys were pretty cool about it and as we had dinner in the upstairs dining hall a little while later they regaled us with stories about travelling in the north at the whim of the weather. Turns out as well that Louis the innkeeper was also Louis the cook, Louis the server and Louis the busboy. After our raisin pie we returned to our room, but were intercepted by Louis the innkeeper. He was obviously concerned that we might be his guests for more than one night and he clearly didn’t have room.

He began calling Hannah’s numbers again. Her daughter Julia answered and Louis passed the phone to me:

You came in?

Yes we did.

You’re here with your daughter?

Yes.

We had lots of cancellations this week.

Oh. I’m sorry.

I didn’t pick you up from the airport because I thought you were like all the rest.

Oh.

You want me to come and get you? Or do you want to stay at the hotel? It’s up to you.

I’ll still stay with you if that’s all right.

I don’t care. It’s your choice.

(Louis, overhearing both ends of the conversation, gestured that I should go go go to Hannah’s.)

We’ll stay with you.

Okay.

I returned the phone to Louis, paid for our dinner and we were out the door with Julia, on our way to Hannah’s.

We met Hannah – dark haired, crinkly eyed, all smiles and expressive face. She showed us our room, the shared bathroom, the coffee pot. “You need anything? You ask me.”

And we went for a walk in the bright-as-day evening sun. The wind was coming from the west, blowing over the ice-packed Cumberland Strait and I suddenly considered there was no way I’d brought enough clothes. Great ice floes rested on the beach, hung up there as the tide receded. Puppies and children ran about the dusty roads, little boys on bikes skidding on the gravel, the occasional adult making easy eye contact with the obvious visitors, each one calling out “Hi!” with a smile.

We returned to Hannah’s, ready for bed. It had been a long two days, broken up by the occasional nap.

Hannah met us at the door. “What time you eat breakfast? What you like eat for breakfast?”

I was prepared for this and had forewarned Liliana that we were going to respect local hospitality and eat what was in front of us. We would be guests after all.

You like bacon and eggs? I like bacon and eggs. You eat bacon and eggs tomorrow?

We’ll eat anything, said the vegetarians.

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I didn’t really pay too much attention to learning Cyrillic the first few days in Russia, although we ought to have known better after the first day in St. Petersburg, when we came home with a bag of frozen meatballs thinking they were cheese perogies.

Friday 09.09.13, Kievskaya

But upon arriving at the Moscow subway, a certain degree of fluency was suddenly deemed important.

In fact, reading the language turned out to be fairly straightforward.

P = R, C = S, B = V, b = B … that sort of thing. A basic substitution cypher to make the cryptographers happy, and a lot of phonetic similarities for us uniglots.

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Down, down, down deep into the underground of the Moscow Metro. Reminded us of descending into a coal mine in Australia a couple of years ago.

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Crisp and clean!

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I’d heard earlier about the astonishing and dramatic works of art in the subway system and it was true.

When Stalin ordered the artists and architects to design a structure that embodied a brilliant and radiant future, it was his intent to remind the riders that he and his party had delivered something substantial to the people in return for their sacrifices.

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Stalin tried to create an environment that would encourage people to look *up,* admiring the station’s art (and perhaps thinking of him in god-like terms?).  At the time, the chandeliers were the most technically advanced elements of the metro.

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And the metro truly is beautiful. It’s clean, no litter or graffitti, despite transporting more than nine million passengers per day!

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Interestingly, voice announcements refer to the lines by name, with a male voice announcing the next station as one travels toward the centre of the city, and a female voice when going away from it.

Of course, you must remember which is which…

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Sushi, anyone?

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And after braving the rabbit warren below, it was time for a break in the daylight.

Okay, so here’s the query: What well known company is represented here?

(with a clue or two at the start of the post)

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Wandering around the Red Square just 13 days ago, we paid a third and final visit to that most iconic of Russian landmarks to bid a fond до свидания (do svidaniya — goodbye) to Saint Basil’s Cathedral or, as it’s more properly known in the world of Russian Orthodoxy, The Cathedral of the Protection of Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat.

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The cathedral, which is actually eight small churches arranged around a ninth, was built on orders from Ivan the Terrible to commemorate a successful capture of the city of Kazan from the Mongols in 1552.

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The church was completed eight years later in 1560 and legend has it that Ivan ordered the the builders blinded with hot irons so that they could not recreate anything else as beautiful.





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For a time in the Soviet Union there was talk of demolishing the building largely because it was in the way of Stalin’s plans for massive parades in Red Square. One architect, Pyotr Baranovsky, when ordered to prepare the building for demolition wrote a letter where he bluntly refused to do so. While Baranovsky earned five years in jail for his opinion, the cathedral remained standing.

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The walls of the interior (too dark for photos) are covered in frescoes and in one tiny room three burly Muscovites serenaded us with traditional Russian hymns which resonated gorgeously in the acoustics of the vaulted stone walls. With stacks of CDs for sale at a side table it was nice to see the Russian entrepreneurial spirit alive and well.

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As part a result of state atheism the church was confiscated from the Russian Orthodox community and has operated as a part of the state historical museum since 1928.

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I have to say, this building was a real treat to the eyes. As one approaches Red Square the cathedral peeks out with its splendid onion domes. Other cathedrals are topped with golden domes, but these painted beauties are unique.

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It was a bit of a hike from our hotel to the Kremlin and the Arbatskaya, the area we wandered through to get there, offered much in terms of food, drink and trinkets.

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And on this particular day, something for everyone.

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На здоровье!

Na Zdoroviya!

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Without a long time to spend in St. Petersburg we had to ensure we’d pack in as much as possible into a handful of very brief days. Fortunately, just a few steps from our apartment we found this simple structure inviting our gaze and adoration.

And gaze we did! This Church of Our Saviour on Spilled Blood (one must imagine it doesn’t translate well) was the perfect antidote to grouchy airport personnel (oh, that cello! The girl should take up harmonica!) and a stifling apartment.

Inside are hundreds of gold-leafed icons of saints and other important men (!), a marble mosaic floor, and frescoes on the domed ceiling. Stunning.

 

 

 

 

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The next morning the city welcomed us with a noisy blast of horn and drum, right outside our window.

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Such rigidity and solemnity. So formal and professional.

 

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Or maybe not.

These blue-striped specimens of manliness, many toting cans of beer, formed a long mass of humanity that went on and on in the parade.

 

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Mothers, children, wives and girlfriends walked along with the men who sang and shouted out to the crowds lining the streets.

(See the little girl’s feet?)

 

 

 

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We gathered from the flags and then later from a newspaper that there was some kind of recognition of the country’s paratroopers.

So we couldn’t determine if these fellows had themselves served in the army or if they were commemorating others who did.

 

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Watching out for rabble rousers at the rear, I guess.

 

 

 

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And for a complete change of pace, we attended Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro later that night at the magnificent Mariinsky Theatre, built in 1860.

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Outside in the mezzanine and in the hallways were photos of Rudolf Nureyev and Anna Pavlova, whose careers were launched here.

 

 

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And a peaceful walk home, with a stop for ice cream, as we contemplate the many facets of our good fortune.

As for the name of this place, I have no idea. But to be fair, there’s a gold topped dome every couple of kilometres.

Some serious navigation is about to start.

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Our home and native land

Well, one of our native lands, anyway.

Just a few hours after leaving Milan at the end of our music program in beautiful sunny perfect rural Italia, we touched down for a few days in Poland.

First time anyone of my grandfather’s direct line of the family has gone to the land of his parents, since his own visit there in the early 1970s.

A rather powerful feeling to set foot in this land, and even more so when, at the airport, I recognized the smiling face of my cousin, not seen in person since his 1977 trip to Canada. (Ah, the wonders of Facebook!)

As we’d left our little B&B at 5 a.m. (preceded by a  delightful four-hour nap), arriving in Warsaw at 7 p.m. with a three-hour drive to our cousin’s home in Lublin, we were, frankly, famished!

Dear Jerzy (pronounced Yurek) took us to a tiny in size but magnificent in flavour traditional Polish restaurant.

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Oh my.

Kapusta — cabbage. Grzybami — mushrooms.

Miesem — with lentils.

Ruskie-style —  Sweetened cottage cheese, served with slightly sweetened whipped cream.

So amazing to eat this food, so long a part of our family’s culinary traditions, at a little eatery in the middle of our long-ago homeland.

The magic was not lost on my travelling companions.

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The next morning: The magic we’d all been waiting for.

This little piece of property, tho’ not the house nor anything on it, is the ancestral land of my grandfather’s parents, my mother’s grandparents.

According to Jerzy, in the late 1800s the land in this area and the people farming it, were the poorest of Poland’s poor. Leaving behind the little they had and arriving in Canada with nothing could not be any worse than the life they already were living.

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My grandfather was born after his parents arrived in Canada but four siblings were born in Poland, with one dying on the boat coming over.

The fellow in the picture talking to Jerzy didn’t seem as awed by the history as we were. Jerzy, however, was so so proud of having found this property and being able to take us there.

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There, but for the bravery of Andrew and Katerina Ilczyna, stand two little punks whose lives would have been extraordinarily different from all they know today.

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Just down the road and walking distance from the house was this old wooden church, sitting where it was built 277 years ago.

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What a moment to think that this would most likely have been where they married, baptised their children and gone to church every Sunday.

All so very amazing!

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These following pics are of no particular significance other than that they show some  family names via marriage.




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I love cemeteries and while the lettering is long since eroded on the family stones, such that even Jerzy couldn’t find them (although they’ve been found in the past) to think, again, that our history was right there beneath our feet, gave a sense of reverence for the actions of our ancestors.

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Interestingly, when Jerzy came to Canada in 1977 he told us if his father wanted to own a car he would have to save his salary for ten years. Now Jerzy and his wife each have one. They take none of this for granted, despite living a style so desperately different from that of their parents.

And as we drove off again in Jerzy’s car and  looked out at the countryside, we could see how easily coming to Canada would have felt like coming home.

Just as we felt at home by completing the circle for them.

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Here we go!

Our last week in Sunny Italia was an all-hands-on-deck series of concerts, lessons, classes and eating!

So much to sample, so little time!

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This little one had a couple of amazing opportunities with some top teaching talents. She and her brother had prepared, over the course of the past year, a challenging duet which they’d hoped to have ready for public performance.

Prior to the public performance, however, there was a ‘check in’ (aka an audition) for all the performers. Well, turned out the piece wasn’t up to the festival’s public playing standards and while the two were allowed to play other pieces, this one was out for various but very understandable reasons.

While the violinist was relieved, the cellist had some tears.

“But we worked so hard!”

There were some motherly and relatively unheard words of consolation and we all carried on. A couple of days later, my princess bravely approached a serious cello talent and asked if she might have a lesson.

Following the lesson, in which she’d made some mighty progress and conquered a couple of stumbling blocks, I asked her why she didn’t play like that all the time.

She smiled. “I didn’t know I could.”

She also said she was wondering if she could regularly travel to London for more lessons with this professor.

Very funny.

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A couple of nights before the end of our time in Casalmaggiore, our lovely B&B proprietress Barbara prepared a dinner for all her guests based entirely on the traditional dishes of her hometown, Modena.

She’d wanted to take us there for a little day trip to her parents’ place in the country and where her father makes his own legendary batches of balsamic vinegar (two wee bottles in my luggage; the stuff is 34 years old and tastes like everything good).

Here she’s showing packages of pasta produced and available only in Modena and which we — of course! — sampled later.

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Cooking pasta and, for reasons not clear to me, transferring pasta from one pot of hot water to a second.

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These other tasty babies (I was told the name but have forgotten) were rolled and rerolled to perfection on this electric pasta maker. Nice gadget.


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Cut and then left to rest beneath a tea towel while the rest of dinner was prepared.

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The perfectly cooked tri-colour Modena pasta with a bologne sauce (tomato and meat).

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For the non-meat eaters, quattro formaggio. His life will never be the same.

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And these tasty bits are the piece of dough seen above, dropped into hot oil until puffed up.

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And then opened, stuffed with a very creamy (although with a different texture than you’d call ‘creamy.’ The proper word escapes me and I will seek out this cheese — I promise! — on our return. After stuffing with cheese and arugula, one could also add some parchment-thin transparent slices of home-cure prosciutto ham or salami.

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Happy happy kidlets. They ate and ate and would have eaten more had the Princess not been part of a so-lovely ensemble, playing music in the town cathedral for a mass in remembrance of all the dead children known to the parishoners.

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This pic is before the Mass began and you may just be able to see a couple of heads above the railing to the left.

The list of children’s names went on for such a long time. So much heartache, even if now old pain.

But the music was exquisite, enhanced by the indescribable acoustics.

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The feeling on the walk home was like sunshine.

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Ooooooh, big day in the tiny town.

Or at least, big day for my little chickens.

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All squeaky clean and garbed in concert black, walking two long blocks from the B&B where we’re staying, then across the piazza, then two more long blocks up to Santa Chiara.

Nervous and joyful energy. They knew they were well prepared and that the performances would be strong and so were able to relax.

All the students here at the festival have an opportunity to perform at public events and we’ve attended concerts most afternoons and evenings, some here in Casalmaggiore, others in neighbouring towns and villages.

Some of these attendees, I’ve learned, are of such a level of excellence they already have managers back in their home country.

Others have mothers.

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An early arrival in the Aula Magna, the big hall, to tune instruments and get into ‘the zone.’

You’ll please indulge my iPhone photos. I dutifully videocam’d with one hand and attempted to snap with the other. A day for memories, not photographic excellence.

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The first movement of a piano trio by Haydn. Blurred in the background is the page turner, a critical job, one I nervously held two nights ago.

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Oh, a mother’s dream to see her two little chicks up on stage. No arguing, no bickering, just lovely tuneful music.

They played the third movement of the same trio. For some reason the organizers swapped out the cello parts, likely as the Princess is again playing in a large cello ensemble in a couple of nights, and they needed to share the fun!

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And here, a Beethoven trio, with a cellist from Shanghai. In the small world department, this girl is taught by the mother of the Princess’s teacher. Got that? Jeuwen, also 12, is very sweet and arrived with her father. She and Liliana have gotten on very well, despite the language barrier. It’s very sweet to see them giggling and gesticulating together.


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Well, whew! Wasn’t that fun!

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And now, off to the ‘watermelon party’ in the cortile, the courtyard downstairs.

These are precious moments indeed. The other day I remarked as we ambled along the Po River, “Sometimes I feel like I am the luckiest person in the world.”

Homeboy replied, “Oh, Mummy. You always say that.”

I guess I do.

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