Autumn Splendour: Admiring Fall Colours in Eastern Canada

Cooler weather has finally settled in to Eastern Canada after a long hot dry summer. While I thoroughly enjoyed the sizzling  temperatures, I was apprehensive about what the fall months would bring.  After having lived on the Caribbean island of Dominica for almost 20 years, who could blame me for fearing the worst, in terms of a plummeting thermometer!

As it turned out, semi-tropical weather accompanied me on a mid-October  Canadian Thanksgiving journey to the east coast of Canada to visit relatives.  Unusually warm, sweltering, sunny days preceded the heavy deluge that Nova Scotia received from the remnants of Hurricane Matthew on October 10th, Thanksgiving Monday.

But several days before that powerful storm drenched this Maritime Province, spectacular scenery occupied the shorter autumn days of my train journey on ‘The Ocean‘.  When I booked the excursion from Kingston Ontario to connect with the east coast train departing from Montreal, Quebec,I had forgotten that I would not have the  long  summer hours  of daylight to see the sites/sights along the way. But no matter: I was better rested during the overnight segment of the 27 hour trip and was duly rewarded with colourful landscapes the next morning as the train passed through the upper St. Lawrence Valley of Quebec, crossed in to northern New Brunswick, following along the Mirimichi River in a southerly direction to the innermost marshlands of the Bay of Fundy at Sackville, New Brunswick and Amherst Nova Scotia. By the time we approached Halifax around 7 p.m., weary passengers were rewarded with a sensational sunset over a lake situated just north of the provincial capital of Halifax.

For a map of my rail journey, click here.

On the train, some of nature’s palette of colours that I admired from my window seat:
Thanks to the gorgeous weather which continued during my visit with relatives in the Annapolis Valley, it was easy to go on long walks and drives every day except the one when heavy rains kept most people inside, recovering from their Thanksgiving feasts.
The fall festive season in the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia completely reflected the abundance of the harvest. While there had been a prolonged drought during the short growing season, certain crops definitely did thrive. The hues of orange and related shades on the spectrum blended sweetly  with the greens and browns of the now-barren fields:
On a fine day after Hurricane Matthew’s remnants had lashed Nova Scotia, my cousin Greg took my Aunt Vivian and me on a drive through part of the Annapolis Valley. Then my cousin Dwight and ‘sister’ Patricia took me over to historic and scenic Grand Pré UNESCO World Heritage Site just before I departed for Halifax the next day. While some leaves had fallen due to the high winds of the previous Monday, there was sufficient foliage to admire in the heart of this beautiful Canadian province:
 There were even vibrant flowers, sweet berries and hardy plants to admire, thanks to the temperate weather in Wolfville, Nova Scotia.  But I am sure that my cousins’ green thumbs had something to do with that too:

On my way back to Kingston (by air!), I spent a short time in Halifax, the major urban centre in the Maritimes and my home for many years.  As the weather remained fine well into October, I was struck by the beauty of this lovely city and remembered other times there when the prolonged autumn was moderated by the post-summer warmer waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

And now that November’s here, in multi-shades of grey, I am thankful to have had such a sensational and scenic autumn in eastern Canada.  While it did not offer the endless greens found in Dominica,  the region’s pre-winter natural beauty was definitely good for my soul!

Advertisements

One Long Lovely Summer in Eastern Canada: Family Connections, Fond Memories and Fun in Nova Scotia!

Distant Cape Blomidon,verdant fields and the historic Grand Pre church with its dramatic Acadian history are prominent features in Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley.

Distant Cape Blomidon,verdant fields among the protective dykes and the historic Grand Pre church with its dramatic Acadian history are prominent features in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley.

Whenever I am in Canada, I enjoy taking a trip ‘down east’, because I’ve got lots of good reasons to spend some time there!

This past summer, I made my plans to be in the Annapolis Valley by July 7th, because there is a very special birthday to celebrate on that day.  Whenever possible, I delight in joining my cousins to honour their mother, my Aunt Vivian as the one and only nonagenarian on my side of the family.  Last year, there was a big bash for her 90th, which coincided with the unanticipated arrival of Hurricane Arthur. However, his unwelcome presence did not deter any of the 100+ guests from making their way through the storm to be there for her memorable day. Despite the inclement weather, it was a joyous occasion that I will never forget! You can read about it here.  This

Aunt Vivian reads a birthday greeting from my immediate family on her 91st. Her grandson Adam looks on, and other family members are listening nearby on this special occasion.

Aunt Vivian reads a birthday greeting aloud from my immediate family on her 91st. Her grandson Adam looks on, and other family members are listening nearby on this special occasion.

year, per Vivian’s wishes, the gathering  for her 91st was more intimate and family centred, and I was honoured to be a part of it two years in a row!

It's fun to walk along the trails along the dykes near Wolfville, and take in the tides and the late summer sunsets!

It’s fun to walk on the trails along the dykes near Wolfville, and take in the tides and the late summer evening sunsets!

However, before I made my way to attend that special day, I first visited with my environmental health specialist, Dr. Jonathan Fox, M.D., whose office is located at Integrated Chronic Care Service  in Fall River, a short drive from the Stanfield International Airport, which is north of Halifax.  It’s always extremely helpful to consult with him, as his counsel helps me to better manage my environmental-based illnesses, whether in I am in Canada or Dominica.  This facility is the only one of its kind in Canada, and I feel very fortunate to benefit from the services that cater to my specific health challenges. I am also grateful to Dr. Fox for his ongoing care through phone consultations, which aid me in maintaining an improved quality of life wherever  I am situated.

Cousin Dwight and his wife Patricia are my super-fun, high energy hosts. They've always got 'something cooking' that amounts to another adventure for me!

Cousin Dwight and his wife Patricia are my super-fun, high energy hosts. They’ve always got ‘something cooking’ that amounts to another great adventure for me!

After this important appointment, I drove down the highway en route to Wolfville, to rendez-vous with my super hosts, cousin

Wolfville is a thriving town in the Annapolis Valley and is the home of Acadia University, a small but well respected academic institution.

Wolfville is a thriving town in the Annapolis Valley and is the home of Acadia University, a small well-respected academic institution.

Dwight and his wife Patricia for my first Nova Scotia supper since last year.  Of course, it included fish! Their home is a safe haven for me when I am in their area, as they are well versed in dealing with allergies and

Folk art is a popular genre of artistic endeavor in Nova Scotia, as evidenced in Wolfville.

Folk art is a popular genre of artistic endeavor in Nova Scotia, as shown in Wolfville.

sensitivities. It really helps to have their understanding and support and makes travel much easier when away from my home environment. Unfortunately, there is considerable pesticide application throughout the Annapolis Valley at that time of year, as it is a major ‘bread basket’ in Canada with its ubiquitous fertile soil and ideal growing conditions.  Thankfully, my ‘relations’ are big on ‘organic’, ‘free-range’ and ‘non-toxic’, so I am definitely in the best company, for which I am very grateful!

As usual, there were loads of incredible meals – most with seafood, as there is nothing like the ‘fresh fish’ that is readily available in this east coast province. I took my aunt on a road trip or two, to check out places once familiar and to visit some other relatives too.  Then I was treated to a couple of excursions by my cousin Greg. He has a knack for venturing off of the main route to explore out-of-the-way places.

These house are on stilts at Bear River because teh Fundy tide can be very high at times.

These houses are on stilts at Bear River because the Fundy tide can be very high at times.

The quaint art galleries in Bear River contain exceptional works of art - in many genres. It's definitely worth the drive off teh beaten path to this pretty hamlet.

The quaint art galleries in Bear River contain exceptional works of art – in many genres. It’s definitely worth the drive off the beaten path to this pretty hamlet.

I was very lucky to be along for a couple of those rides.  The most memorable of all was the day trip to Bear River and Digby, in the western part of the ‘Valley’. The terrain is decidedly different from the eastern area, as it

I discovered that it really is a small world when I met Simone at the Visitor Information Centre in Bear River. Her parents live on the road to my favourite Three Little Cottages where I spent a lovely 6 weeks, near Battersea Ontario.

I discovered that it really is a small world when I met Simone (l) at the Visitor Information Centre in Bear River. Her parents live on the road to my favourite Three Little Cottages where I  later spent a lovely 6 weeks, near Battersea Ontario.

becomes more densely forested and closely skirts the Annapolis River which empties into St. Mary’s Bay on the Bay of Fundy.  I was particularly intrigued by the abundance of artistic creativity, as evidenced in the shops and galleries around somewhat secluded Bear River.  And at

Digby Nova Scotia is a famous fishing village. It is renowned for its abundant catches of deep water scallops.

Digby Nova Scotia is a famous fishing village. It is renowned for its abundant catches of deep water scallops.

Digby, I enjoyed a feed of deep water scallops,for which the town is famous, as well as a tour of the historic and stately Digby Pines

In Digby, the clock in the town square even tells the time of the high and low tides

In Digby, the clock in the town square even tells the time of the high and low tides

I posed with cousin Greg in the entrance to the dining room of the famous Digby Pines Resort, which has a lengthy history and a constant stream of guests!

I posed with cousin Greg in the entrance to the dining room of the famous Digby Pines Resort, which has a lengthy history and a constant stream of guests!

Resort, where Aunt Vivian once worked in the early 1940’s.

Evangeline Beach at Grand Pre is a great place to hang out - whether the tide is in or our. Cape Blomidon is in the background.

Evangeline Beach at Grand Pre is a great place to hang out – whether the tide is in or out. Cape Blomidon is in the background. The fog does cool things off on a hot day though!

On another outing, Greg took Vivian and me around the  world-renowned Grand Pré area near Wolfville, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Centre. The dykes, which hold back the strong tides which prevail in the nearby New Minas Basin were first constructed by the Acadians in the 17th century and continue to protect valuable farmland to this day. Some of my Nova Scotia ‘roots’ originate in this area, so I always feel immediately at home when I visit this beautiful locale.

On some other occasions, I felt completely awed by the extent of my connections to the central Annapolis Valley.  I really enjoyed the get-togethers, where I got to see and speak to several generations of my extended family – all the way to cousins three times removed.  I can imagine Aunt Vivian’s tremendous delight at being able to enjoy and experience the accomplishments and experiences of her children, grand children and great-grandchildren.  I am  so happy for her!

My week with the relations was short, but definitely sweet.  I parted with assurances that I would return as soon as possible, although likely in the fall when the crops are in and exposures to pesticides would be greatly reduced. Autumn in Nova Scotia is generally gorgeous, with colourful leaves and bountiful harvests. Sounds like a plan!

From downtown Halifax, the Town Clock on historic Citadel Hill is a prominent landmark.

From downtown Halifax, the Town Clock on historic Citadel Hill is a prominent landmark.

Then I headed back down the highway to Halifax, my home of about 12 years –

I love 'the vibe' in the Halifax Public Gardens. And I know I am not the only one. Everyone can find a spot enjoy some solitude and natural beauty.

I love ‘the vibe’ in the Halifax Public Gardens. And I know I am not the only one. Everyone can find a spot  to enjoy some solitude and natural beauty.

a long time ago!  It’s such a lovely and lively east coast port, which brings forth wonderful memories of my time well spent there – learning, living and working. Despite the fact that I became very ill there,I consider this vibrant city as the place where I ‘grew up’ after graduate school and pursued  a career as a  government librarian and .seriously developed my leisure pursuits as a singer.

This fountain in the Halifax Public Gardens is a popular setting in which to sit nearby and enjoy the scene!

This fountain in the Halifax Public Gardens is a popular setting to sit nearby and enjoy the scene!

Nowadays, I like to wander around the bustling city centre, which has changed considerably, as now there are multiple high

Downtown Halifax is a mix of old and new that complement each other very well.

Downtown Halifax is a mix of old and new that complement each other very well.

rise buildings in the business district.  In contrast, serenity is easily encountered in its beautiful Victorian era-designed Public Gardens and the naturally sculpted Point Pleasant Park at the

As the fog lifts, a container ship enters Halifax Harbour, as seen from Point Pleasant Park.

As the fog lifts, a container ship enters Halifax Harbour, as seen from Point Pleasant Park.

entrance to Halifax Harbour. My tour of my second home town was a little short this time, and allowed for only a brief visit with an old

The waterfront of Point Pleasant Park is rugged and brisk, as it faces the open Atlantic Ocean. This anchor is a monument that pays tribute to men and women in the Canadian Navy who died in peace time.

The waterfront of Point Pleasant Park is rugged and brisk, as it faces the open Atlantic Ocean. This anchor is a monument that pays tribute to men and women in the Canadian Navy who died in peaceful times.

Halifax is and always has been an active sea port. This mural depicts the tall ships that once anchored in the harbour.

Halifax is and always has been an active sea port. This mural depicts the tall ships that once anchored in the harbour. Sailing replicas are honoured every so often in festivals.

friend from my days at Dalhousie University’s now-named School of Information Management.  It’s always a treat to catch up  on news as the years fly by.

As I headed back to airport to begin my retreat in the wilderness north of Kingston Ontario, I acknowledged that a  longer return visit to Halifax and the Annapolis Valley will be a priority on my next trip down east!

One Long Lovely Summer in Eastern Canada: Wilderness, History and Celebrations near Kingston, Ontario

My 'home from home' for six weeks was this quaint little cottage on Dog Lake near Battersea, Ontario (as seen from a canoe!)

My ‘home from home’ for six weeks was this quaint little cottage on Dog Lake near Battersea, Ontario (as seen from a canoe at sunset!)

During the summer of 2015, I had a wonderful opportunity to enjoy a prolonged stay near Kingston Ontario, which is my home town.  For six weeks, I stayed in a familiar  rural setting and got to know it even better.  On the edge of the wilderness,I stationed myself for numerous idyllic summer days at one of the  cozy Three Little Cottages on Dog lake. These cute and comfortable cabins are owned by longtime neighbours and friends, Sharon and Will

The Freedom Farm is situated near the Three Little Cottages, and the home of proprietors Sharon and Will Freeman.

The Freedom Farm is situated near the Three Little Cottages, and the home of proprietors Sharon and Will Freeman.

Freeman of Battersea, Ontario. Their organic Freedom Farm, which is situated in close proximity to the cottages is the perfect complement to my Canadian quest for clean air, food and water!  While these dedicated farmers quietly toiled over about 30 varieties of produce for their clients of the Community Supported Agriculture program, I was able to observe the tending and growing process and occasionally devour the ‘fruits’ of their labours – with great pleasure!DSCF5773

There are lots of good reasons to spend time at the Three Little Cottages and Freedom Farm - I should know!

There are lots of good reasons to spend time at the Three Little Cottages and Freedom Farm – I should know!

Its somewhat remote location actually forms part of the Frontenac Arch Biosphere (FAB), which is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. One of the biggest thrills for me in this place of  serenity and solitude was the abundance of opportunities to observe wildlife up close.  It was very exciting to be able to ‘shoot’ animals without ever disturbing them in their natural habitat.  For me, that was a new experience that I want to repeat!  A sampling of my encounters with wild four-legged and two-winged creatures is found below.

Bees happily buzzed around these hives on the Freedom Farm. They certainly had fields of plenty to make great honey!

Bees happily buzzed around these hives on the Freedom Farm. They certainly had fields of plenty in order to make great honey!

I nick-named this Great Blue Heron, 'Herman' because he seemed to want to get to know me. He certainly left his calling card - on my car and the roof of the cottage!

I nick-named this Great Blue Heron, ‘Herman’ because he seemed to want to get to know me. He certainly left his calling card – on my car and the roof of the cottage!

Little bunnies occupied the fields and lane ways - around the garden, of course!

Cute little bunnies hopped about the fields and lane ways – but they were not encouraged to hang  around the garden, of course!

OF course, some domestic animals occupied the Freedom Farm - ponies, dogs and a cat added to the homey feel of the place.

Some domestic animals occupied the Freedom Farm – ponies, dogs and a cat added to the homey feel of the place.

At daybreak, , a family of deer would sometimes come to the shore directly opposite the cottage for a drink.

At daybreak, , a family of deer would sometimes come to the shore directly opposite the dock of the cottage for a drink.

I caught this Pileated Woodpecker early one morning at Gilmour Point on Dog Lake.

I caught this Pileated Woodpecker early one morning at Gilmour Point on Dog Lake near Battersea Ontario.

It’s also an area renowned for fishing, and my brother and sister-in-law took advantage of that opportunity.  Edwin did catch a ‘big one’, but that is a story for another day.  I had fun watching them cast their lines – morning, noon and night!

Many days, I read books by Kingston poet laureate and author Helen Humphreys. I also took short excursions to nearby villages such as Westport, Glenburnie Latimer, Seeley’s Bay and Inverary.  These little

It's fun to look over the pretty village of Westport on Upper Rideau Lake from Spy Rock in the Foley Mountain Conservation Area.

It’s fun to look over the pretty village of Westport on Upper Rideau Lake from Spy Rock in the Foley Mountain Conservation Area. Photo taken by Edwin.

hamlets formed part of my childhood experiences  and I always enjoy returning to them.  Then there were times when I

There's always another 'big one' out there, and the many fishing enthusiasts on Dog Lake will tell you so!

There’s always another ‘big one’ out there, and the many fishing enthusiasts on Dog Lake will tell you so!

I caught Edwin and Beth casting their lines at the crack of dawn - ever hopeful for one that didn't get away!

I caught Edwin and Beth casting their lines at the crack of dawn – ever hopeful for one that didn’t get away!

drove half an hour south of the cottage near Battersea  to go ‘downtown’, as my family used to refer to outings to Kingston from our country location.

This year, I decided that it was time to refresh my memory about the history of my  beloved Limestone City, which was settled in the mid-17th century.  It was no coincidence that  my sudden

This regal statue of Sir John A. Macdonald figures prominently in the park named after him in Kingston!

This regal statue of Sir John A. Macdonald figures prominently in Kingston’s City Park!

interest in a local refresher was prompted by the celebration of the 200th anniversary (bicentennial) of the birth of Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister.  Although he was not actually born here, he resided in Kingston, Canada’s first capital, for most of his life  He subsequently died in Ottawa, the current longstanding federal capital.  This visionary man was instrumental in developing a national railroad (from coast to coast) and, as a Father of Confederation, recognized that the country’s early cultural and regional differences  would ideally make an exceptional nation! He met with many pitfalls along the way (both personally and professionally), but he perservered, and  his ideas greatly influenced the kind of country that Canada is today!

I

There are a number of buildings around Kingston that were once occuspied by Sir John A. for personal or business interests. This pub was his law office. It's located on King Street East and offers good food at reasonable prices!

There are a number of buildings around Kingston that were once occupied by Sir John A. for personal or business interests. This pub was his law office. It’s located on King Street East and offers good food at reasonable prices!

caught up quickly on what was long forgotten in terms of my knowledge of this great Canadian when I took in the Salon Theatre Company’s top-notch re-enactment of the key events during Macdonald’s life in Kingston in an outdoor setting.

If you are in Kingston Ontario in the summer months, you've got to check out the Salon Theatre Company's super show on Sir John A.!

If you are in Kingston Ontario in the summer months, you’ve got to check out the Salon Theatre Company’s super show on Sir John A.!

The Salon Theatre Company offered a highly entertaining and instructional production called 'In Sir John A.'s Footsteps in downtown Kingston.

The Salon Theatre Company offered a highly entertaining and instructional production called ‘In Sir John A.’s Footsteps’ in downtown Kingston.

I thoroughly enjoyed the one hour performance by this professional acting troupe, and I could easily understand why they were rated a Trip Advisor top attraction in Kingston this past summer!

As this production further provoked my interest in reacquainting with my home town, I took a guided bus tour

Bellevue House in Kingston is afascinating museum that displays effects from the time when Sir John A. and his family lived there in the mid 19th century.

Bellevue House in Kingston is a fascinating museum that displays effects from the time when Sir John A. and his family lived there in the mid 19th century.

of the Limestone City, as Kingston played such a prominent role in the founding of the Dominion of Canada. The historic sites are all very significant and well worth the review.   As well, I heard more about our first prime minister.  Kingstonians are certainly proud of their Sir John A.!

The dome of Kingston City Hall (centre) and the spire of St. Mary's Cathedral (left)figure prominently as one approaches from Lake Ontario.

The dome of Kingston City Hall (centre) and the spire of St. Mary’s Cathedral (left)figure prominently as one approaches from Lake Ontario.

One another steamy day, I took the ferry from Kingston to Wolfe Island and back in order to get cooled off and to appreciate the lovely city from  its

Kingston is renowned for its excellent sailing conditions. It hosted the sailing competitions during the Montreal Olympics in 1976.

Kingston is renowned for its excellent sailing conditions. It hosted the sailing competitions during the Montreal Olympics in 1976.

important location at the intersection of Lake Ontario, the St. Lawrence River and the Rideau Canal! Certainly the afternoon’s journey was most revitalizing. However, I did not take time to visit the quaint town of Marysville on the island, but will certainly do that on my next trip to Kingston.

The rehearsal studio at 'The Isabel' overlooks Lake Ontario. What a spectacular setting for musical and theatrical endeavors!

The rehearsal studio at ‘The Isabel’ overlooks Lake Ontario. What a spectacular setting for musical and theatrical endeavors!

It was a complete delight to take a guided tour of the brand new Isabel

I was very honoured to be taken on a tour of the Isabel Bader Center for the Performing Arts by its Director,Ms. Tricia Baldwin. I am very grateful to Ms. Faye Ransom, Senior Development Officer/Gift Planning at Queen's University for organizing this delightful visit.

I was very honoured to be taken on a tour of the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts by its Director, Ms. Tricia Baldwin. I am very grateful to Ms. Faye Ransom, Senior Development Officer/Gift Planning at Queen’s University for organizing this delightful visit. Photo taken by Faye.

Bader Centre for the Performing Arts at Queen’s University.  As a graduate of the School of Music, I truly admired the state-of-the-art performance hall and attractive rehearsal space, both with world-class acoustics.  I was bold enough to sing a few notes from the stage and was completely amazed by the quality of the sound.  I envied current students, who I am sure will make good use of this facility.  I hope they will enjoy it as much as I would!

In fact, the entire summer seemed to be filled with joyous events and occasions.

Before the formal grad ceremony commenced, Mara played flute with the high school band. Behind her on alta saxophone is her brother Dallin (in the hat). They are both accomplished musicians!

Before the formal grad ceremony commenced, Mara played flute with her high school band. Behind her on alto saxophone is her brother Dallin (in the hat). They are both accomplished  young musicians!

My niece Mara was thrilled to receive the Governor General's Medal at her high school graduation for the highest average in academics.

My niece Mara was all smiles when she received  the Governor General’s Medal at her high school graduation for the highest  academic average at her high school .

It was an honour  as a proud Auntie to attend the high school graduation of my niece Mara, whose incredible academic accomplishments earned her the prestigious Governor General’s Medal, among other awards and  post-secondary scholarships.  She is a very humble, hardworking young lady, and I wish her much success in her university studies (at Queen’s!) and beyond.

A couple weeks after that ceremony, I was honoured to attend another milestone: that of the marriage of

It was a beautiful day in early July when my longtime friends David and John 'tied the knot' in a moving ceremony before 100 guests at their home in eastern Ontario.

It was a beautiful day in early July when my longtime friends David and John formally ‘tied the knot’ in a moving ceremony before 100+ guests at their home in eastern Ontario.

longtime friends David and John at their home in eastern Ontario.  Throughout that special afternoon, I was enveloped in the complete sensation of love and honour that prevailed throughout this unforgettable day.  I felt so proud to be one of the 100+ witnesses of their formal vows of commitment to each other.  The feelings of good will were definitely infectious.  I wish my dear friends happiness and love always.

I cherish this photo of me with my brothers, Edwin (l) and Marc from our Summer 2015 reunion.

I cherish this photo of me with my brothers, Edwin (l) and Marc from our Summer 2015 reunion.

Then later that summer, I realized a commitment that had been overlooked for several previous visits due to the timing of my stays in Canada. My nephew Dallin is an accomplished student actor who

Auntie Gwen delighted in the chance to spend a little time with her niece Mara and her nephew Dallin in the Summer of 2015.

Auntie Gwen delighted in the chance to spend a little time with her niece Mara and her nephew Dallin in the Summer of 2015.

has participated in a number of plays produced by the  Stirling Festival Theatre‘s Young Company in Stirling, Ontario. This year, I got to take in all the fun watching him and the cast singing and acting their hearts out in ‘Legally Blonde, The Musical’. After I saw the hilarious show for the second time, we gathered for a family reunion at The Black Dog Family Restaurant in Stirling, to top off the happy events of the Summer of 2015. We were all in fine form, and I have the photos to prove it!

After our gathering I drove back to the little cottage north of Kingston to spend what I thought would be my final week in Canada. As we now know, Tropical Storm Erika changed my plans and I got to enjoy a longer visit with family and friends. But before that happened, I felt  completely at peace with my commune with nature and the pervasive tranquility that enveloped me during my six week retreat at the Three Little Cottages.  I hope it won’t be too many summers before I can return there again!

But wait… there’s more! I haven’t told you about the adventures in Nova Scotia  with my relatives this past July!  Find out about my down-east fun times in the next post!

At summer's end, even the fishing fanatics have gone 'home'.

At summer’s end, even the fishing fanatics on Dog Lake have gone ‘home’.

One can get up close and personal with the granite shoreline when in a canoe.

One can get up close and personal with the rocky granite shoreline of Dog Lake when in a canoe. It’s part of the Frontenac Arch Biosphere (FAB).

One Long Lovely Summer in Eastern Canada: Nature and Nurture Not Far From Toronto!

The Nottawasaga Bluffs Conservation Area on the Niagara Escarpment is a mere half hour drive west of Barrie.

The 400 acre Nottawasaga Bluffs Conservation Area on the Niagara Escarpment is a mere half hour drive west of Barrie and is south of Collingwood.

My extended visit to Canada (thanks to Tropical Storm Erika in Dominica) started and ended in a lovely city one hour north of Toronto, which is a relatively easy commute by car, bus or train from there to the big city.  One of my brothers lives in Barrie, Ontario and I spent several weeks with him and his wife Beth, which included a number of outings to the surrounding countryside.  I had no idea how beautiful the area is, until my brother Edwin showed me around!  I could understand why Torontonians like to escape on weekends to this region, as it offers nature, culture and adventure of a slightly different kind than dear Dominica!

The Lazy Tulip Cafe is conveniently located near the Barrie Bus Terminal, on

The Lazy Tulip Cafe is conveniently located near the Barrie Bus Terminal, at 29 Maple Avenue.

For me, culture always includes cuisine, and apart from a number of delicious home-cooked meals, I enjoyed regular runs into downtown Barrie with my laptop under my arm for some  organic ‘java’ and gluten-free food.  I was pleased to make the acquaintance of Michelle,

If you want to know why it's called the Lazy Tulip Cafe, you just have to go there and aks Michelle!

If you want to know why it’s called the Lazy Tulip Cafe, you just have to go there and ask Michelle, the owner!

proprietor of the Lazy Tulip Café. I really enjoyed the homey ambience, convenient WiFi and casual conversations over my usual half-day stay.  That’s where I wrote several of my Dominica-Erika blog posts! Michelle sincerely commiserated with me about the catastrophe on Dominica, as she has a property in the Bahamas, and understood the vulnerability of Caribbean islands to natural disasters.

Lo and behold, didn’t she write me this note just a few days ago: “I feel like we are living in a parallel universe as I sit here now in the same shoes you were in a few weeks ago. Rum Cay [Bahamas] got hit by [Hurricane] Joaquin and is currently in a state of devastation. I set up this Facebook page in hopes of communicating! https://www.facebook.com/rumcaycommunity

It is certainly a coincidence that we both profoundly felt the effects of life in the hurricane zone, even though we were both far away from it when the storms hit our respective adopted homes!

On weekends, my brother took me to several wonderful places and I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to explore new territory in my home province!

On my first Sunday in Canada this past June, he dragged this weary but

I think this is a Tohmson, but you can correct me if I am wrong!

I think this is a Thomson, but you can correct me if I am wrong!

I think this is A.J. Casson of the Group of Seven . Please let me know if I am wrong!

I think this is A.J. Casson of the Group of Seven . Please let me know if it belongs to one of the others in the Group of Seven!

interested traveller to the McMichael Canadian Art Gallery at Kleinburg, Ontario.  There, I took in for the first time, the incredible, renowned paintings of the famous ‘Group of Seven‘, along with Tom Thomson, First Nations and Inuit artists. If you want to have an overview  contemporary of Canadian styles, then this is the place to go!   I thoroughly enjoyed this gentle introduction back to my homeland.

A few months later, in mid-September Edwin took me to Kleinburg again.  But this time, we checked out the annual Binder

At the Binder Twine Festival, these musicians played some sweet down-home music.

At the Binder Twine Festival, these musicians played some sweet down-home music.

Twine Festival, which signals the start of the harvest in the Greater Toronto Area!  It’s been around since the 19th century, and certainly

This stiltwalker got lots of attention, even when he wasn't juggling at the Binder Twine Festival.

This stiltwalker got lots of attention, even when he wasn’t juggling at the Binder Twine Festival.

draws a crowd from the big city.  While we were disappointed not to see any  large farm animals, I did enjoy looking at handmade quilts, and watching some local performers right on the street.

I also spent a little time in the quaint city of Orillia, an easy half hour north Barrie.  It’s 19th century setting has a small town feel to it, and there are a number of appealing shops and restaurants that draw cottagers, tourists and locals every summer. I was also fortunate to see my longtime naturopathic physician and friend  Dr. Shawna Clark, N.D. as her

Dr. Shawna Clark, N.D. has been my naturopathic physician for over 18 years. She has helped me to have an improved quality of life and I don't know what I would do without her guidance and treatment advice!

Dr. Shawna Clark, N.D. has been my naturopathic physician for over 18 years. She has helped me to have an improved quality of life and health. I don’t know what I would do without her guidance and treatment advice!

office is conveniently located in this pretty hamlet on the shores of Lake Simcoe. In fact, it was tremendously helpful for me to be able to see her in person three times over this long lovely summer.  Her counselling and recommended nutritional support with supplements, along with homeopathic remedies enabled me to cope well with my persistent environmental health challenges.

On Canada Day (July 1st), I convinced my brother to take the half hour drive ‘up the road’ to  see the parade in Orillia.  Last year, I had enjoyed the spectacle in the booming city of Halifax, my favourite east coast port. I was curious to see how a smaller central Canadian centre would celebrate our big national day.

 A number if vintage autos formed part of the Canada Day 2015 parade in Orillia, Ontario.

A number of vintage autos formed part of the Canada Day 2015 parade in Orillia, Ontario.

When we arrived, the parade hadn’t yet started, so we had lunch at Mariposa Market Café, a great place for good food and Canadian-style gifts. Then we heard the drums.  We rushed out to line the street with other enthusiastic patriots.  Although it was low-key and rather short, the spirit of the day prevailed, and its country-

Ponies and horses adorned with riders and flags filled the main street of Orillia during its Canada Day parade.

Ponies and horses adorned with riders and flags filled the main street of Orillia during its Canada Day parade.

flair, with plentiful horses and antique autos adorned with Canadian flags made me proud of my heritage,

Of course I had Canada Day fever! I was ready for a slice of strawberry-rhubarb pie to celebrate my heritage!

Of course, I am tired!  I had Canada Day fever. I was ready for a slice of strawberry-rhubarb pie to celebrate my heritage!

as a country girl from Canada! I also enjoyed the Canadian folksongs and down-home atmosphere at Barrie Hill Farms on our way home.  It was fun to sing along with the two guitarists, who favoured Neil Young and Gordon Lightfoot (from Orillia) in their repertoire.  I certainly took a trip down memory lane on Canada Day 2015!

These two musicians provided a pleasant backdrop during a snack stop at the farm market at Barrie HIll Farms.

These two musicians provided a pleasant backdrop during a snack stop at the farm market at Barrie Hill Farms.

Perhaps most memorable of my prolonged stay with brother Edwin and his wife Beth are the excursions to specific nature sites, all of which were undertaken in fine weather!

No this is not the Caribbean - it's the beach at Awenda Provincial Park on Georgian Bay near Penetanguishine Ontario. Photo taken by sis-in-law Beth.

No this is not the Caribbean – it’s  Awenda Provincial Park on Georgian Bay near Penetanguishine Ontario. Photo taken by sis-in-law Beth.

When we first arrived at Awenda Provincial Park on the shores of Georgian Bay for a picnic and swim, I felt as if I were on a sandy beach on a Caribbean Island! It was a beautiful  Saturday in early September

Beth and Edwin enjoy our picnic on a prefect September Saturday at Awenda Provincial Park on Georgian Bay.

Beth and Edwin enjoy our picnic on a perfect September Saturday at Awenda Provincial Park on Georgian Bay.

and for the first time that long lovely summer, I went for a dip – not once, but twice!  It was that warm…. My brother packed a portable BBQ and we enjoyed two meals of organic beef burgers, organic potato salad and organic green salad – all prepared by me!  I was happy to organize this special meal and I was grateful to the pair for hosting me for an extra span of time, while I waited for the airport to reopen on Dominica, following Tropical Storm Erika.  After we feasted, we lounged, swam again and went for a light hike along the extensive shoreline. It was

What a day to be on the beach at Awenda Provincial Park on Georgian Bay near Penetanguishene Ontario.

What a day to be on the beach at Awenda Provincial Park on Georgian Bay near Penetanguishene Ontario.

such a gorgeous day – one I will not soon forget.  Before darkness fell, we and hundreds of others headed south to the cities.  Along the way,

The Martyrs' Shrine near Midland Ontario. It honours 8 Jseuit saints who loved and dies there over 350 years ago.

The Martyrs’ Shrine near Midland Ontario is stunning in the evening light of summer. It honours 8 Jesuit Saints who lived and died there over 350 years ago.

we stopped at Mom’s Restaurant in Midland Ontario for coffee and home-made dessert.  Then we drove through the grounds at the Martyrs’ Shrine, across the road from the St. Marie Among the Hurons historic site, This area played a significant role in Canadian history as Ontario’s first European community, dating back to the early 17th century!

There were numerous shorter forays during my time spent north of Toronto –  along the walkway skirting Kempenfelt Bay on Lake Simcoe  in downtown Barrie, pretty Springwater Conservation Area on the outskirts of Barrie, scenic Belfountain Conservation Area and other parks. However, I will cherish my very last September Saturday outing most of all. On the afternoon of the 26th, under sunny skies, we headed off to the Nottawasaga Bluffs Conservation Area.  I admired the verdant fields on the short drive west, as I took in splendid views of the Niagara Escarpment, a very fertile farming area in southern Ontario. As we commenced the walk along a well groomed track, I

This butterfly doesn't seem to be in a hurry to leave for the winter on that warm, sunny day. Photo by Edwin Whitford.

This butterfly doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to leave for the winter on that warm, sunny day. Photo by Edwin Whitford.

Pretty wildflowers lined the path as we entered Nottawasaga Conservation Area. Photo by Edwin Whitford.

Pretty wildflowers lined the path as we entered Nottawasaga Conservation Area. Photo by Edwin Whitford.

stopped to admire pretty wildflowers and gorgeous butterflies before they no doubt commenced their migration to warmer winter climes. Edwin had visited this park previously, and he led me off on a side track that actually forms part of the renowned Bruce Trail, which is “Canada’s longest and oldest footpath.”  Initially, I wished that I had donned my hiking boots, as the

I caught Edwin going up the trail, as I stopped to take in the lovely forest on teh Niagara Escarpment.

I caught Edwin going up the trail, as I stopped to take in the lovely forest on the Niagara Escarpment.

slippery rocks, uneven terrain and steep descents were reminiscent of some hikes in Dominica.  Without my hiking pole, I carefully picked my way

Peek-a-boo! The air was cool and damp in those deep crevaces. Photo taken by Edwin.

Peek-a-boo! The air was cool and damp in those deep crevasses. Photo taken by Edwin.

along, with my brother in the lead.  After several minutes, I was hooting with glee, delighted that this could be my warm-up trek for future forays on the Nature Island!  After about half an hour, the tricky trail looped back to the main track and we found ourselves at a sensational look off over the

It was fun to walk down the narrow chasm on this part of the historic Bruce Trail, which intersects with Nottawasaga. Photo by Edwin Whitford.

It was fun to walk down the narrow chasm on this part of the historic Bruce Trail, which intersects with Nottawasaga. Photo by Edwin Whitford.

scenic Niagara Escarpment (see photo at top). I breathed deeply of pure fresh air, and noted the subtle colour changes in the leaves, signalling summer’s end – but not on that spectacular day!

Chicken soup, baked bread and crispy coleslaw. A perfect post-hike snack! Photo taken by Edwin.

Chicken soup, home-baked bread and crispy coleslaw. A perfect post-hike snack! Photo taken by Edwin.

My reward for my efforts  was a late lunch at the warm and welcoming Affairs Bakery and Cafe in Creemore, a small village renowned for its restored 19th century architecture and its home-brewed beer.  I was very hungry from our healthy hike, and I devoured home-made chicken soup, a slice of freshly baked bread, and crispy cabbage salad with gusto.  Then came dessert.  As Canadian Thanksgiving was just around the corner, I fittingly topped it off with a divine pumpkin tart and a

I can't wait to return to the Affairs Bakery and Cafe in Creemore Ontario. Photo taken by Edwin.

I can’t wait to return to the Affairs Bakery and Cafe in Creemore Ontario. Photo taken by Edwin.

pumpkin-flavoured latte.

What a fitting finale for my long, lovely summer in eastern Canada.  And I’ve yet to tell you about all the other adventures over my three and a half months.  Lots more to come!

Now that I've got your attention...Stay tuned for the continues adventures of Canary Gal in Canada in Summer 2015!

Now that I’ve got your attention…Stay tuned for the continued adventures of Canary Gal in Canada in  the summer of 2015! (Photo taken at Awenda Provincial Park, Georgian Bay Ontario.

A Canadian Canary Visits Paris: Incomparable Dance, Theatre, Jazz, Classical and Contemporary Music*

The Opera Bastille, designed by Canadian architect Carl Ott was the venue for a sensational production of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker ballet.

The Opera Bastille, designed by Canadian architect Carl Ott was the venue for a sensational production of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker ballet.

Music, theatre and dance in various forms have always been very healing for me – whether as a performer or as a member of the audience or as a remote viewer/listener via an electronic medium. While my primary motivation to travel to Paris in winter was to attend to wonderful wedding of my fabulous French friends Carole and Gildas, my second priority was to experience as  many performing arts productions as possible.  I was definitely not disappointed! “There are at least 800 performances on any given night in Paris!” Gildas informed me  of this fact during a mystery tour I took with them. (More on that in a subsequent post.)

My first big performance outing was on New Year’s ( called Old Year’s in the Caribbean) Eve. Thanks to Carole, who had secured a ticket for me several months in advance, I was off to see The Nutcracker Ballet, a traditional Christmas favourite entertainment in Canada, as well as in France.  It had been more than 30 years since I last watched this special 19th century spectacle on stage, and here I was in Paris of all places to see it again.  Well, I was beyond delighted!

I have been fortunate to see the Rudolf Nureyev choreographed nutcracker many years ago in both Ottawa and Toronto.  To see it in Paris was definitely a dream come true!

I have been fortunate to see the Rudolf Nureyev choreographed Nutcracker  Ballet many years ago in both Ottawa and Toronto. To see it in Paris was definitely a dream come true!

As I seated myself in the second balcony, I was amazed at the exceptional view I had of the entire stage at the Opera Bastille.  And I could also see the conductor and all the instrumentalists in the orchestra pit.  This well-loved ballet held the 3,000 viewers in the sold-out space  in awe for about two magical hours, with one 20 minute intermission.  I particularly enjoyed watching the harpists in the ‘pit’, as well as the conductor’s baton guiding the musicians through Tchaikovsky’s renowned score.  But of course, it was the dancers who stole my heart and everyone else’s, with their beautiful, precise, flowing movements, demonstrating their strength and agility in this challenging physical art form.   Yet it was more than that.  In Nureyev’s choreographed production, it was evident that the enchanting tale of The Nutcracker was also relayed through the dancers’  facial expressions and mimed  injections of humor, with which the audience could easily identify. The entire Corps De Ballet  and the students in the dance school of the  Paris Opera Ballet gave me a wonderful New Year’s gift with their world-class performance of a timeless tale. I left the opera house in a dream-like state, as is fitting a New Year’s Eve in the City of Light!

The Theatre Chatelet is located in the 1st arrondissement of Paris, alongside the Seine River.

The Theatre Chatelet is located in the 1st arrondissement of Paris, along the Seine River.

During the following week, I was well occupied by outings with Carole and Gildas.  However, when Saturday January 3rd arrived, I was determined to see the world première of An

There are 2,500 seats in the Theatre Chatelet, more recently called Theatre Musicale de la paris.

There are 2,500 seats in the Theatre Chatelet, more recently called Theatre Musicale de la Paris.

DSCF4036

The stage is set for the opening act and the piano is ready to be played!

American in Paris musical before it closed and headed to Broadway!  Again, Carole had tried to secure a ticket for me, but the house was completely sold-out on that last weekend of its run at the Theatre Du Chatelet.  However, she advised  me that rush seats with limited sight lines of the stage would be available for only $10 Euros.  Well, on that Saturday morning, I was at the ticket office as soon as it opened.  I was able to get a ticket with a caution that I might not be able to see the entire stage.  In my mind, something was better than nothing for an occasion such as this!

The  walls of the Joe Allen Restaurnat and Bar are adorned with posters from Broadway musicals and plays!

The walls of the Joe Allen restaurant and Bar are adorned with posters from Broadway musicals and plays!

As I had a few hours before the 3 p.m. start, I wandered around the Halles area of the first arrondissement.  It was a very rainy day and quite cool, so I was glad of my boots, wool coat and hat as I braved the elements with an umbrella for shelter. I was also on another mission:  I went in search of a well-known American

The renowned American Joe Allend Restaurant and Bar is located in close proximity to the Theatre Chatelet and the the Duc de Lombard Jazz Club.

The renowned American Joe Allen Restaurant and Bar is located near  the Theatre Chatelet and Le Duc des Lombards Jazz Club.

Café, as well as the location of a jazz club, called Le Duc Des Lombards.  I lucked out on both counts.  It was really just by chance that I came upon the Joe Allen Restaurant and Bar. I had an ulterior motive too: once I found it, I had hoped to meet the Canadian chef for which the place is famous – Graeme Bent.  My cousins from Nova Scotia are acquainted with his family, so I had hoped to say ‘hello’!  However, he was not in at that time, but I did enjoy my chicken Caesar salad with a mild apple cider on the side.  The place was packed, and by the time I finished my meal, I had to run for the opening of the theatre at 2:30 p.m. so that I could find my seat.  I made it on time, although I did get turned around once and was courteously redirected by a friendly Parisian, who understood my French perfectly!

A polite usher confirmed that it was not possible to take photos once the performance had begun.  This is a standard practise in most theatres these days.  For the same reason, I could not get action shots at Opera Bastille for The Nutcracker.  While I noticed that people did use their smart phones to capture memories from the stage, I respect the rights of the artists, as I wish to receive the same consideration for my own creations.

I was thrilled to discover that the sight lines for the stage were quite good, except for far stage left.  As it turned out, very little of the action took place in that area, so I felt well satisfied by my $10 Euro investment!  The plot is a well-known one, as the original film version starred Gene Kelly, and most people know at least a couple of the tunes, such as ‘I got Rhythm’ and ‘S’Wonderful’.  As the production was set in English, I could easily follow it, while French speakers referred to moving lines of translation above the stage.  Sometimes I looked at it and chuckled to myself.  As I have learned, it is often challenging to translate an idiom from one language to another; they tend to lose meaning.  However, the overall sense of the action was not lost on anyone.

Here I was in Paris, watching a musical written by  Americans George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin, which really created a picture for me of what it may have been like  just after World War II and the end of Nazi Occupation in this City of Light.  The romantic leads were truly incredible: both are professional ballet dancers with fine voices and a great command of the stage.  You can read a complete review here.  They succeeded in thoroughly convincing me about their love for each other despite the challenges of post-war Paris,  as an American GI who stayed behind and fell in love with a French girl of Jewish ancestry.  The stage setting also depicted Paris as it would have looked during that era, and the cast cleverly moved the props on and off the stage without having  to make any big scene changes.  Without a doubt, I was entertained and instructed by these talented professionals, and of course, the music was so uplifting.  The whole creation transported me to another time – in Paris!

It was beyond a thrill to attend the world premiere of An American in Paris on its last weekend in the City of Light.  The show was then heading to Broadway, NYC!

It was beyond a thrill to attend the world première of An American in Paris on its last weekend in the City of Light. The show was then heading to Broadway, NYC!

As I was on a ‘high’ after that magical show, I thought I would try my luck at Le Duc des Lombards, which was located about 10 minutes away.  Unfortunately the two jazz performances were sold out that night, but I was able to return on another evening a few days hence.  I headed back to my cozy AirBNB apartment in Montmartre on the convenient Métro, as I had big  music plans for the next day too.

 

Notre Dame Cathedral is a prominent landmark on an island in the Seine River.

Notre Dame Cathedral is a prominent landmark on an island in the Seine River.

Because Sunday January 4th 2015, was actually the Christian celebration of Epiphany (when the Magi, (aka Wise Men) visited the Baby Jesus).  I made my way to the world-famous Notre Dame Cathedral for the international mass to take place at 11:30 a.m. Although thousands of parishioners and visitors filled the immense sacred place, I was able to get a seat very close to the area where priests conducted the liturgy and the  soloists lead the

One of the amazing stained glass windows in Notre Dame Cathedral.

One of the amazing stained glass windows in Notre Dame Cathedral.

congregation in songs of praise – some of which were in Latin, while the rest were in French! As well, I enjoyed the choir’s rendition of J.S. Bach’s Cantata  BWV 123 for Epiphany: ‘Liebster  Immanuel’.  Although it was very chilly inside, and there was a slight distraction from hundreds of footsteps of tourists admiring the architecture around the perimeter, I was completely mesmerized by the voices and the beauty of the setting.  One of the  largest stained glass windows has been in place since the 13th century and parts of the organ date back to the 17th century!  I felt very joyful when the hour-long service was over, even though I was shivering!

The Epiphany display at the front of Notre Dame Cathedral wa a joyful sight to behold!

The Epiphany display at the front of Notre Dame Cathedral was a joyful sight to behold!

I have already reported about my next musical foray: ‘The Flute Project: Guitar and Flute’ which took place at the Trinity Church on Thursday January 8, 2015.  You can read about that moving performance here.

Yes, I actually did sing a little too:  that surprise performance took place during the happy occasion of the wedding of my French friends Carole and Gildas on Saturday January 10, 2015.  I had slightly modified a couple of verses of ‘La Vie En Rose’ so that the song focussed directly on them.  My a capella performance is referred to here.

It was almost the end of my visit when I got a taste of jazz , for which Paris is famous since World War II.  My return to le Duc Des Lombards jazz club in the Halles district of the first arrondissement with a reserved ticket was a fitting grande finale to my musical adventures in Paris.

Kavita Shah from NYC captivated the audience at the renowned Le Duc Des Lombards Jazz Club. Photo taken from page 9 of Le Duc Des Lombards French Quarter 5th edition Programme 2 -31 January 2015.

Kavita Shah from NYC captivated the audience at the renowned Le Duc Des Lombards Jazz Club. Page 9 copied  from Le Duc Des Lombards French Quarter 5th edition Programme 2 -31 January 2015.

I arrived at 7:30 p.m. on Monday January 12th for the first performance of the evening by Kavita Shah, a New Yorker of East Indian origin.  When I walked in to the intimate venue, the place was already close to its capacity of 65 seats.  A group of businessmen dined and casually conversed while technicians ensured that everything was in order on the small stage. Other jazz enthusiasts seemed to be seated at their favourite spots.  A friendly waiter took my order for mint tea. He also confirmed that photos were not allowed.  When Ms. Shah arrived, she passed casually among the crowded tables and smiled at everyone.  She then went upstairs for a few minutes and then quietly came down to take the stage while she watched her fellow musicians: drummer, pianist, guitarist and double-bassist as they warmed us up with the first selection.  Then she spoke to us in both English and French and told us about some of her own compositions and how she had fused eastern melodies with mystical stories.  The blend of jazz with unfamiliar  foreign musical influences resonated sweetly in my head.  Her clear soprano voice, pure in tone, seemed to melt perfectly into the timbre of the various instruments.  Sometimes I could not distinguish the sound of her voice from the guitar or piano when the notes were in unison. The whole room was spellbound by her low-key demeanor and superb talent. I was carried away be the loveliness of the music and her clarity of the words in each song.  I was completely ‘blown away’ by her duet of ‘La Vie En Rose’ with the double-bassist.  The  two diametrically opposed ‘instruments’ complemented each other despite the extreme differences in their harmonic qualities.  Suffice to say it was a very ‘funky’ upbeat presentation of this French classic. When they finished to loud applause, the double-bassist announced that the song was dedicated in love to the people who had lost their lives in the terrorist attacks  in Paris the previous week.

That was about the quickest hour and a half that I ever experienced in my life!  The show was over all too soon.  I could easily understand why critics call this tiny salon one of the finest jazz venues in the City of Light.

As I reflect on those wonderful and varied artistic performances, I feel truly blessed to have been able to partake of this amazing aspect of Paris life during my short time there. Now I dream of returning for more!

* This piece is dedicated to Leng Sorhaindo, renowned Dominican piano teacher (retired) and accompaniste extraordinaire. She asked me several times about my musical experiences in Paris, with great interest. As a singer, I am privileged to  be associated with  this exceptionally talented musician and supportive friend.   Thanks Leng!

A Canadian Canary Visits Paris: The Unforgettable Wedding Celebrations of My Special French Friends!

Carole and Gildas await the Mayor of the City Hall in the 9th arrondissement of Paris (where they live) with joyful anticipation. He officiated their marriage, as is customary in a secular ceremony.

Carole and Gildas await the Mayor of the City Hall in the 9th arrondissement of Paris (where they live) with joyful anticipation. This dignitary officiated their marriage in a marriage in a  formal civil ceremony.

Saturday January 10, 2015 was a day that I will always remember.  I awoke to milder temperatures and weak Parisian sunshine and straight away prepared for a long-awaited event: the wedding ceremonies of my lovely French friends, Carole and Gildas!  I had looked forward to this special occasion for months, and this exceptional couple had worked very hard to ensure that it would be a day that family and friends would cherish forever. Their

Gildas, the groom (far right beside Carole) is attended by his good friends: what a coordinated effort in couture (fashion)! I loved it.

Gildas, the groom (far right beside Carole) is attended by his good friends: what a coördinated effort in couture (fashion)! I loved it.

natural inclination to  intricately plan and organize was clearly evident before and during the extensive festivities.  That was no surprise to me, as I have seen them in action before on a smaller scale so I knew that they would pull off their Big Day with finesse and panache. However, I was completely amazed by the originality and creativity that prevailed in all aspects of the wedding ceremonies and celebrations, not only from the bride and groom, but from their longtime friends as well!

I really enjoyed the formal civil ceremony at the City Hall in the area where Carole and Gildas live.  The mayor wisely counselled them in front of the assembly about the responsibilities associated with marriage.  However, a light-hearted, joyful atmosphere  also prevailed in this stately setting.

Carole's quiet joy was captured in this candid photo right after the papers were signed in the Civil Ceremony!

Carole’s quiet joy was captured in this candid photo right after the papers were signed in the Civil Ceremony! The mayor is in formal attire as well (background).

Maid of Honour Sophie and teh groom's attendants exchange pleasantries  just after the Civil Ceremony.

Maid of Honour Sophie and the groom’s attendants exchange pleasantries just after the Civil Ceremony. Gildas just cannot stop smiling!

The happy couple posed before the doors closed to give them privacy for a couple of minutes!

The happy couple posed before the elevator doors closed to give them privacy for a couple of minutes!

 I benefited from this Formal Shot for their official photographer, as I was standing nearby.

I benefited from this formal shot, organized by their official photographer, as I was standing nearby.

Who could not gasp at Carole’s demure beauty and perfect  poise, and then  juxtapose the response with awes directed at her partner Gildas’s flamboyant expressions of joie-de-vivre. Yin and yang – a perfect match. And they’ve known that for a long time.  The couple has been an item for over nine years so they are well acquainted with each other!

The newlyweds left the City Hall in a Tuk Tuk, which tool them to a private family lunch before the next ceremony.

The newlyweds left the City Hall in an auto-rickshaw called a tuk tuk. It took them to a private family lunch before the next ceremony.

I did not take many photos at this session, as I reacquainted with a young lady named Eloise,  a friend of Carole’s who used to live  near me in Dominica.  We chatted away and caught up on our lives in the past couple of years as the extended family posed for pictures.  Then the relatives headed off to a private lunch, to energize for the more intimate, festive celebration which would follow a few hours later.  Eloise and I took the Métro to our respective stops, agreeing that we would meet up again at the next event.

Back at my guest apartment at Montmartre, I ate a quick lunch, showered again and dressed up for the next grand ceremony.  Fortunately, I was less than  a 15 minute (uphill) walk away from the ‘Espace Montmartre’ at the base of the famous Sacre Coeur Basilica, where the secular ceremony would take place.  It’s a good thing that I like to walk up mountains.  I easily climbed a few hundred steps, but did not break a sweat in the 12 degree Celsius temperatures.  Perhaps I was a little pink and it was the perfect occasion for having a subtle glow on my cheeks!

I, perhaps like the bride and groom, was a little nervous about the role that I would play in this ceremony: my five-minute speech about Carole and Gildas when they lived in Dominica was to be a big surprise!  Magali, the mother of the

Carole was escorted down the aisle at the Salon de Montmartre at the beginning of the secular wedding ceremony.

Carole was escorted down the aisle by her father at the Espace Montmartre at the beginning of the secular wedding ceremony.

groom had already reviewed it, so I knew that my sentiments could be understood in French.  I was the second-last person to speak during this chronological and geographical programme (Carole was last  – she was talking about the future), but I was able to enjoy the other presentations by family members, witnesses and friends, who briefly spoke about  earlier times and places where the adventurous couple had previously lived.

Here is what I had to say about my special French friends, translated back into English:

“Newlyweds Carole and Gildas, Their Families and Friends:

It is a big pleasure to be here in Paris for this special occasion. I am particularly honoured to attend the marriage of this charming couple that I met in Dominica. You see, they were my French teachers, and at the same time, I got to know them, and very quickly they became my friends!

Well, they lived near me and I drove them home after our classes.  In this way, I became familiar with them personally, as well as professionally.

When I met them at Alliance Française de la Dominique, I was learning (and continue to try to learn) French at an advanced level (so please excuse any errors in this presentation!). In the preparatory classes for exams, Carole was patient, gentle and friendly. She encouraged me and as well gave me supplementary courses for revising what I had forgotten or needed to practise some more.  She also organized several cultural events at Alliance Française.  Thanks to her, Dominicans enjoyed learning more about France.

As an individual, I discovered that Carole has an incredible capacity for empathy, that she demonstrated when I was experiencing some difficult situations. I have already told her that the world has need of more people with a gift of compassion like hers.  She is an example for all of us to follow, and I am so happy to know her.  Gildas, I know you are very lucky to have this beautiful lady as your life partner.

Perhaps it is surprising to learn that Gildas, like his wife Carole, is a marvellous French teacher. At our Friday afternoon conversation classes, my classmates and I enjoyed the lessons that he prepared for us, which included discussions about daily life in France, and occasionally Canada (the former mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford, for example).  Also, he gave us information for communicating better if visiting France, and techniques for French cooking. As well, he taught us word games to improve our French vocabulary.

This nice young man certainly is competent in the kitchen and I appreciated all of his  French culinary creations.  I could also see that Gildas is a man who is very disciplined and intelligent, who loves to share his knowledge with others and in return,  he receives different points of view with interest. I have also observed that he is very devoted to and respectful of his wife. In my opinion, Carole is very lucky to share her life with this exceptional young man.

I  admire this extraordinary couple because of their numerous interests: in activities, other people and different cultures. They accomplished a lot during their short time in Dominica.  They participated in many activities, including a difficult hike that crosses all of Dominica.  This big walk in the forest and the mountains is very difficult for most people, but they succeeded without any problem. Carole learned to dive too. They attended many cultural events and formed friendships with people who came from various countries to live in Dominica. They additionally travelled to Central America and other Caribbean islands in that short space of time.

Carole and Gildas are now ready to throw themselves into a new adventure, as they are leaving to go ‘across the pond’ (New York City) to live and work in my part of the world. I am certain that they will make the most of this experience. I only hope that they will not acquire an American accent when they speak English, but I am saying that because I am Canadian!

I am here today to honour my special French friends and I would like to wish them all the best in their life together. I thank them from the bottom of my heart for everything that they have done for me – as my charming hosts during my first visit to Paris and for everything they have shared with me about your marvellous country.

Above all, Carole and Gildas, I wish that you will always have “une vie en rose!””

Then I sang a couple of modified verses of this classic French song, La Vie En Rose. I changed words so that it was more personal for them, not me.  Maybe somebody recorded it.  But if you would like to hear the original, sung by Edith Piaf, you can  listen right here.

Carole and Gildas formally exchange their wedding vows.

Carole and Gildas formally exchanged their wedding vows.  They wrote these meaningful words themselves.

The newlyweds had written their own vows, and it was a thrill to hear them recite them to each other in the presence of family and friends.  Then they recessed down the aisle and we threw paper airplanes at them for good luck!  The reception, with the Eiffel Tower in the background was most congenial and there, Eloise and I continued with our earlier discussions. I even learned some new French vocabulary during our conversation!

The view over Paris from the wedding reception room added to the ambiance of this wonderful occasion.

The breathtaking view over Paris from the wedding reception room in Montmartre added to the ambiance of this memorable occasion.

Gildas and Carole pose for an 'extended family' shot on the steps on the Sacre Coeur Basilica in Montmartre. It was right across the road from the Salon for the wedding reception.

Gildas and Carole pose for an ‘extended family’ shot on the steps on the Sacre Coeur Basilica in Montmartre. It was right across the road from the Salon for the wedding reception.

Eloise is a friend of Carole's who used to live in Dominica.  We became better acquainted during the reception.

Lovely Eloise is a friend of Carole’s who used to live in Dominica. We became better acquainted during the reception.

The dinner was divine – several courses – which was too much food for me. But what really grabbed my attention was the way their wedding attendants had created and produced high quality audio-visual presentations about the lives of their dear friends.  They were very humorous and certainly gave me more insight into what makes these two special people who they are today!  Carole and Gildas were also very surprised by the collective gift they received: a cookbook with a

Carole and Gildas admire the gift from all of us:  a  published collection of our favourite recipes!

Carole and Gildas admire the gift from all of us: a published collection of our favourite recipes!

meaningful recipe and related memories of  sharing a particular dish from each guest.  I included Tourtiere, a French Canadian meat pie that I had prepared for them the previous Christmas. They were advised that they have one year to prepare every recipe in the cookbook.  Of course, Gildas accepted the challenge!

What a wedding cake!

What a wedding cake!

A traditional French wedding cake, consisting of several tiers of macaroons was really a sight to behold.  I smiled when the bride and groom exchanged bites, and quietly wished them much sweetness in their lives.

Carole and Gildas sample their wedding cake.

Carole and Gildas sample their wedding cake.

By 10 p.m., tables were pulled to the side  of the room and the dancing began.  I noticed that Carole had changed from her white satin shoes into ruby slippers.  The place was hopping – people of every age took to the floor.  There were plenty of oldie-goldie tunes – in English too, so I sang along for the fun of it.

As I am not a night owl, I departed before midnight but did rejoin the group at noon the next day for a sensational wedding brunch at Ton Ton Jaurès in the 19th arrondissement.  It was one of my most

I am so glad that I have a pic of me with my special French friends in their wedding outfits!

I am so glad that I have a pic with my special French friends in their wedding outfits! Photo taken by Eloise.

delicious meals in Paris.  Perhaps the REAL Canadian maple syrup for the pancakes had something to do with it.  I  became better acquainted with some of the couple’s friends and all of a sudden, it was over.  Time for everyone to move off  and return to their homes.  Gildas and Carole were leaving that evening for their honeymoon in Sri Lanka. You can read about their exotic adventures here.( Even if you don’t speak French, you can admire their incredible photos!)

I bade my special French friends au revoir and agreed that we would meet again sometime, perhaps sooner than we think!

Bonne chance, Carole et Gildas!  À bientôt, mes amis! (Good luck, Carole and Gildas!  See you soon, my friends!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Canadian Canary Visits Paris: Art, Music, and Unity Overcome Dark Days in the City of Light*

Expressions of Je Suis Charlie quickly appeared everywhere in Paris.  This one was painted on to the front corner of an apartment building in Montmartre, the area where I stayed for my second week.

Expressions of ‘Je Suis Charlie‘ quickly appeared everywhere after the horrific  January 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris. This one was painted on to the front corner of an apartment building in Montmartre, close to where I stayed during  my second week in Paris.

It will be difficult to ever forget about the horrific events that took place in Paris, starting on Wednesday January 7, and ending on Friday January 9, 2015. I had no idea that the  regularly scheduled monthly test of the  startling and eerie-sounding air raid siren  at midday Wednesday would be a harbinger of what had just taken place a short distance from my rendez-vous point with a French friend.  That afternoon, just after lunch hour, I was to  meet Magali (the mother of friend Gildas, the groom-to-be) in a café beside the stately neo-classical Notre Dame de Lorette Cathedral.  She was going to take me to some smaller, lesser known museums and sites in the New Athens area of the  9th arrondissement.

I arrived in good time.While I sipped my café au lait, I noticed  that customers seemed to be glued to the TV screen located behind my left shoulder.  I turned my head to take a quick look, and could see police and soldiers  in combat gear with guns and a number of ambulances in front of a building. I hastily assumed that something bad had happened somewhere in the world and immediately thought, “how sad.” In the din of the packed brasserie, I could not make out what was being reported on the  French TV channel.

Then Magali came along, followed by Carole, the bride-to-be.  After a quick greeting and orders for café, they turned their immediate attention to the TV screen.  “What’s going on?” I asked. “There was a terrorist attack at the Charlie Hebdo  satirical  magazine office,” said Carole, “It’s not far from here,” she added.  Feelings of shock, fear and disbelief stunned me momentarily.  “Should we go out?” I wondered aloud.  “Of course, we will be fine,” Magali replied.  Although I was a bit nervous,  we ventured across the road to the  cathedral. We entered its peaceful interior and I immediately felt calmer as we quietly admired the paintings and sculptures there.

After about 20 minutes, we exited that serene setting.  Carole left to continue with her pre-wedding errands.  I then followed Magali along quiet side streets in the neighbourhood and she pointed out where some famous artists, musicians and writers had lived in earlier times, particularly during the Romantic era (ca. 1800-1900) – my

Magali stands in front of the Museum of teh Romantics, the House of painter Ary Scheffer in the New Athens district of Paris.

Magali stands in front of the Museum of the Romantics, the former house of painter Ary Scheffer in the New Athens district of Paris.

favourite époque!  We ducked into a tidy lane-way where I gasped with delight at the sight of a perfectly preserved 19th century mansion, aptly named ‘Museum of Romantics‘. Its contents focussed on the works of some of the then-thriving artists, musicians and writers of the first half of the 1800’s. Painter Ary Scheffer, whose family owned the house at that time, would regularly entertain other renowned neighbours in his studio there, including: writer/painter George Sand; musician Chopin; painter Delacroix; composer Rossini; pianist/composer Liszt; and others. While a  soothing background  of recorded Chopin piano nocturnes diminished my uneasiness about this strange day, I admired paintings, sculptures, letters, and jewelry belonging to these famous French artistes,  which included a cast of pianist/composer Chopin’s left hand!

Chopin once lived here, a short walk from his friend, painter Ary Scheffer and very near to his 'lover' George Sand, a female writer.

Chopin once lived here, a short walk from his friend, painter Ary Scheffer and very near to his ‘lover’ George Sand, a female writer. The space is now part of a business school. A small plaque is on the wall.

We then wandered the streets in search of another little artist’s museum, that of Romantic era Symbolist painter  Gustave Moreau.  However, it was closed that day and I did not have an

I did not get to see the Gustav Moreau museum.  It's on my list for next time!

I did not get to see the Gustav Moreau museum. It’s on my list for next time!

opportunity to return during this visit.  To me, there were few people around.  It seemed too still for a city as lively as Paris. On any other day, I would not have thought anything of it; however, something was going on that was not good and we were as yet, ignorant of unfolding events.  We ended up at another beautiful church: the Sainte-Trinitie.  Again, we went in and gazed in wonder at the plethora of sacred murals and paintings, as well as the Epiphany display for that recently concluded Christmas celebration.

I picked up a pamphlet which advertised a free classical flute-guitar concert the following day and I immediately planned to attend it.  Magali and I then reposed at a pretty café in sight of the church.  While I enjoyed my second café au lait of the day, she read over my presentation for the wedding ceremony of her son, Gildas and daughter-in-law Carole, which would take place the following Saturday. She kindly corrected a few errors so that the speech could be better understood by those in attendance at this memorable occasion. (Sometimes idioms in one language lose their translated meaning in another!)

It was almost dark by the time we parted; Magali left me at the Métro stop  right outside the café while she went in another direction to catch her train. When I reached my AirBNB apartment  in Montmartre about half an hour later, I still had no idea of what had really transpired that afternoon.  I turned on my tablet to find an email message from Elsa, my lovely AirBNB hostess.  She advised me that I might find roads blocked and subway delays in my area, as the terrorists had made their escape on a main route very near to me! My anxiety mounted a bit, but it had been a few hours since she sent the note, so I knew I had to find out what was going on.  I could not figure out how to operate the European TV, so I resorted again to my trusty tablet.  I read  reports from French, British, Canadian and American media outlets to get a sense of the magnitude of this debacle.  Meanwhile, emails and texts arrived from  family members: a cousin who is a retired ‘Mountie’ (RCMP officer) and his wife; as well as from my brothers and their families.  They  wanted to know if I was okay and what exactly was going on.  I immediately responded to all, telling them that I was fine, and that they probably knew more about it than I did! Interestingly, I also felt supported by numerous friends and acquaintances who were sending me ‘good vibes’ telepathically from North America and the Caribbean.  These strong positive feelings really helped me to dampen my fears, and to all of you, heartfelt thanks!

I decided to stay inside that evening, and made an effort to find out what was going on.  It seemed that the terrorists were outside of Paris now, but no one knew exactly where.  I read as much as I could online.  Admittedly, that night I did not sleep well.  The streets seemed too silent: was everyone thinking the same thing?  I even wondered if a curfew had been imposed, but my research disclosed that everything was operating as usual.

Next morning, news reports indicated that someone had identified the terrorists at a gas station and that the police were actively tracking them northeast of Paris. Meanwhile, French President Hollande had declared Thursday January 8th to be a day of mourning in France.  I stayed in the Montmartre area for a few hours and then headed to the Métro just before midday so that I could be on time for the 12:45 p.m. concert at the Trinity

The guitarist and flautist who performed at the free midday concert at Trinity Church sounded heavenly.  They also looked angelic in the dim light, as captured by my camera.

The guitarist and flautist who performed at the free midday concert at Trinity Church sounded heavenly. They also looked angelic in the dim light, as captured by my camera.

Church. It was noon when I stepped into a crowded ‘wagon‘ ( subway car). Right away, an announcement was made that there would be one minute of silence in respect of those who had lost their lives the previous day in the terrorist attack.  The subway stood still and the only sound I heard was silence.  I bowed my head and  quickly prayed for peace.   After a few minutes, we were on our way.  I made it to the church in good time and seated myself about halfway from the performance area.  Before entering, I noticed my first ‘Je Suis Charlie‘ sign on a

The first of hundreds of Je Suis Charlie signs that I noticed around Paris. It was posted on a newspaper kiosk at Trinity Suare, just aacross from the Trinity church.

The first of hundreds of Je Suis Charlie signs that I noticed around Paris. It was posted on a newspaper kiosk at Trinity Square, just across from the Trinity church.

magazine/newspaper kiosk near the church.  I also saw that it was closed for business.

Although the musicians had taken their places,  not one note was played until the MC asked the gathering audience to honour the lives of those lost in the previous day’s attack by paying tribute to them with a minute of silence.  I could see without a doubt that the French were deeply moved by this horrific event and paid respect to their lost countrymen and women frequently during the next several days.

When the flautist and guitarist commenced playing, I really wanted to cry.  The beautiful blend of their sweet harmonies floated to the roof, and perhaps beyond, and the ethereal sounds freely resonated within my heart. I could only feel peace and love in these sacred surroundings, and the joyful noises encompassed everyone in serenity, at least for a short while. For an hour, ‘all was calm and all was bright’ in that lovely sanctuary.  When it was over, I happily made a small donation to the church fund.  I wish I could have personally thanked the musicians for their uplifting gift on a such a sad day.  I hope this brief mention will suffice, in some way.

Trinity Church, located at Trinity Square in the 9th arrondissement had an etheral glow in the late afternoon sunlight following the wonderful concert.

Trinity Church, located at Trinity Square in the 9th arrondissement had an etherial glow in the late afternoon sunlight following the wonderful concert.

I then spent part of the afternoon ‘window shopping’ in a district that was jammed with people taking advantage of  Paris’s semi-annual sales. I contented myself with wandering around in the crowds, unaware of the latest developments in the terror crisis until later that evening. I happened upon a cute little café that caught my eye: The Cat Café, in fact.  Well, with a name like that, how  could I,   a cat lover resist going inside.

The Cat Cafe is a cool place to catch a cuppa. It's located in the shopping district, near Trinity Square.

The Cat Cafe is a cool place to catch a cuppa. It’s located in the shopping district, near Trinity Square.

This time, I had organic English breakfast tea, along with a piece of carrot cake made with wholesome ingredients. After I had finished the tasty treat, I chatted amiably with one of the owners.  We shared stories about our mutual love of cats, and I listened with interest when she explained that tourists were attracted to the café, not only because of its quality products, but because they speak English, as well as other languages! She also updated me on the terrorist situation:  they were still at large and now a police officer had been shot and killed in Paris.Terrorism was felt to be the motivation behind this senseless slaying too.

I had help from friends Jenny, Georgie and Geis to interpret this poster that I saw that I saw on a shop door in Montmartre.  'Je Suis Charlie' was  adroned to a poster of Van Gogh (Absente) and the poisonous drink, Absinthe

I had help from friends Jenny, Georgie and Gijs to interpret this poster that I saw on a shop door in Montmartre. ‘Je Suis Charlie‘ was affixed to a poster of Van Gogh (Absente) with the poisonous drink, Absinthe. Very meaningful!

Once again, feelings of uneasiness surfaced as I headed for the Métro to return to my guest apartment at Montmartre.  However, others on the street appeared to go about their business, and only paused momentarily with frightened looks when  police vehicles with  sirens blaring occasionally roared by.

As everyone knows by now, these traumatic episodes climaxed on Friday January 9, 2015 with the hostage taking and murders of  some of the people in the Kosher Grocery Store, and the  fatal shooting of  three terrorists (two from Charlie Hebdo and one involved in both the grocery store incident and the police officer’s death on Thursday the 8th- the female accomplice is still at large as of this writing).  I would say that the city breathed a sigh of relief, except that there was understandable anger and a collective desire to express unity against these horrific acts.

The American-owned Joe Allen Restaurant and Bar  publicly expressed support of Charlie, along with thousands of other establishments in Paris.

The American-owned Joe Allen Restaurant and Bar publicly expressed support of Charlie, along with thousands of other establishments in Paris.

By Friday, there was a police presence in strategic locations, including tourist sites.  I tried to get used to walking alongside soldiers with sub-machine guns ‘at the ready’, strapped across their chests.  I wondered if it was safer to walk beside, behind or in front of these highly trained military personnel. I also realized that I was learning a lesson from the tenacious French, who throughout their history had experienced many tumultuous events and still believed that ‘Life Goes On’.  Yes, indeed, I was carrying on.  I also witnessed the courage of the people and their firm intention to gather peacefully to show terrorists that they would not ever be intimidated by their heinous acts.  Sentiments about the fundamental right of Freedom of Expression are definitely alive and well in the City Of Light too.  The massive public demonstration  of millions, along with world leaders in the streets of Paris on Sunday January 11th made it very clear to me that Liberté,  Égalité and Fraternité  (Freedom, Equality and Brotherhood) are principles to which we must all aspire for a better world.  I think that my coincidental visit to Paris during these attacks has  reinforced my beliefs about being courageous in the face of fear and  walking freely to my own beat, even  if others might think that my steps should have a different tempo!

Bon courage, mes amis,  bon courage! (All the best, my friends, all the best!)

* This piece is dedicated to Magali Rouland, who took me to see some bright sites  in the City of Light on an otherwise dark day.  I sensed the strength and fearlessness of Parisians everywhere we went and I admired their tenacity and bravery, which is ever-present.

**And to my very special French Friends, Carole Bogdanovcsky and Gildas Lefèvre, I am forever honoured to have attended your beautiful wedding in Paris on January 10, 2015.This special occasion was filled with joy, peace and love, even though it was celebrated only a few days after those horrific terrorist attacks. Because life is a precious gift, we did indeed “carry on!”