Sunday, November 19, 2017

Vamizi: Cradle of Coral

Vamizi is a spectacular island off the coast of Mozambique, and home to some of the world’s oldest and most pristine coral reefs. Dive into this virtual wonderland of marine biodiversity as experts work to defend this thriving ecosystem from corporate interests. Source: TVO

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Travel News: Tour of South - South West Ireland

The next part of my time in Ireland begins on September 10, 2017 when I hop onto a bus to tour the South - South West of Ireland. We are a small group on a small bus. Our driver/tour guide, Patrick Foley, takes us from Dublin heading West through farmland and peat bogs of counties Kildare and Offally. In our introductions, Patrick is curious about the origins of our surnames; each one of us tell our stories. We stop to take a peek at the bogland as Patrick explains how these peat bogs are harvested, dried and used as fuel for heating the homes; today there are yet a few who have not converted to electricity.

Site of Clonmacnoise
Bridge over Shannon River
Lynch Castle--today it houses the AIB Bank, Galway

We arrive in Kilbeggan to take in the Lockeas Distillery, the oldest legal whiskey distillery in the world. We sample the varieties. I stop at the House of Names only to discover that my maiden name Joanes originates in Spain or more correctly Iberian; I buy the scroll with a crest. We continue our drive further west. We stop to explore the ancient site of Clonmacnoise.

As we head West for Galway we make a traditional pub lunch stop in Shannonbridge overlooking the Shannon River. As we continue on the bus, we arrive on the outskirts of Galway.

As Patrick takes us around showing the sights of Galway and meanders along the Promenade facing the Wild Atlantic Ocean, he tells us the story about the prominent Mayor Lynch of Galway who was also the Magistrate at the time.

He tried his son for murdering a Spaniard who apparently was dating a lady that his son had eyes for; his son was sentenced to execution. The townspeople came out in support of his son and tried to prevent the execution.  

Hence the term "Lynch mob." Since none of the executioners would carry out the order, Mayor Lynch himself executed his son and thus the term "lynching" came about. This is one version of the events as told by our guide Patrick and can be considered to be one of the many interpretations of what really happened way back in the late 15th century. Thus we were treated to many a story or legend  during our trip. Patrick is a captivating  story teller.

The next day we depart Galway for the Burren, a beautiful land of limestone pavements, barren hillsides, rare flora and early settlements. We spend some time viewing the Cliffs of Moher.

Cliffs of Moher

It was a very, very windy day but as our guide would indicate at least there is no fog and you can actually see the Cliffs. It was a wondrous sight.

Corcomroe Abbey, County Clare
We visit Corcomroe Abbey that was founded by the Cistercian monks in the late 12th century. Then we view the Portal Tomb. There is ancient history in Ireland.
Portal Tomb, County Clare

Later that afternoon we take the ferry to travel into County Kerry to Killarney. We spot a beautiful rainbow gracing its presence for us all to absorb and enjoy.

We explore Dingle Peninsula where there are many ancient forts and early religious monuments. To stretch we take the time to walk along the sands of Inch Strand in Kerry. It is very good to feel the strong wind and inhale the sea air. Here comes another sight, Prehistoric Dunbeg Fort, a promontory fort built in the Iron Age.
Dunbeg Fort, Dingle Pninsula

We spend time in Dingle Town which is a fishing town with the homes brightly painted in a variety of colours that enable the fishermen to recognize their arrival home while at sea.

On the night of Tuesday, September 12th we are treated to a spectacular show The Celtic Steps. A variety of Irish Celtic dance steps performed by the youth who are known Irish Dance champions in Kerry. Also we witnessed Irish drumming and the captivating story of this particular show.  It is meant to maintain Irish culture and hand down to future generations the Irish culture of dance and music. It was a memorable show.

The next morning we are on the road again, driving around the Ring of Kerry that is a classic route consisting of views of Ireland's highest mountain. Beautiful views of Lakes of Killarney.
Views from Killarney National Park

We visit Derrynane House which was the home of Irish politician and liberator of Ireland, Daniel O'Connell. Today it is part of a 320 acre Irish National Park.

We walk along the pathway spotting a variety of fairy houses until we get to walk along the beach.

The view on the right is taken at Derrynane Beach.

Also in County Kerry we visit a sheep farm where the owner demonstrates how he and his dogs round up the sheep.  We make a quick stop to view Torc Falls.
Torc Falls, County Kerry

Blaarney Castle, County Cork
On our last day of this tour we drive through Cork for a stop at Blarney Castle and no I didn't kiss the Blarney Stone. By myself  I couldn't climb the steep 100 narrow and ancient stone steps with no hand rail. A few of us opted out of this sojourn up. 

I discovered this is one of those "tourist trap" things. Apparently when you kiss the blarney stone you will be blessed with the "gift of the gab." Instead, I stroll through the beautiful gardens on the grounds of Blarney Castle. Near the Castle, the strollers are graced by the music from the bagpipes. 

Rock of Cashel, County Tipperary
We are now heading back towards Dublin. We stop at the Rock of Cashel, Monastery built on top of the Rock. The Rock of Cashel, also known as the King's and St. Patrick's Rock. 

Kilkenny Castle
Kilkenny is our time for another break. We visit Kilkenny Castle that looks onto River Nore, walk along the main street and quickly walk through The Medieval Mile Museum that represents an immense treasure trove of artefacts dating back more than 800 years of history.

We end our tour in Dublin in the early hours of the evening. it was a packed tour of the three of the four provinces of Ireland that deserves another more concentrated tour of each of these provinces. We toured Leinster, Munster, and Connacht that didn't include the province of Ulster.

The black-marked part of the map illustrates my tour from the Irish Sea to the Wild Atlantic Ocean and back to Dublin.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Travel News: Dublin, Ireland

I fulfilled the plan that Tim and I were to visit Ireland in September of 2017. It happened when my sister invited me to spend time in Ireland for a break from the emotional upheaval of grieving the passing of my Tim. I arrive in Dublin on September 5, 2017.

Beaumont House, Dublin
Today, Beaumont House, built in the 1900s, belongs to the Sisters of Mercy and as a guest of my sister I spend the first five days of my time in Ireland. This property originally belonged to Arthur Guinness and his wife Olivia. They had a country residence built on another part of this property in 1764 which later became a convalescent home run by the Sisters of Mercy; it is now taken over by the Irish Government and stands vacant. 

Dublin is a vibrant, bustling city and similar to other major cities in the world it has a significant number of diverse people from different parts of the world. The streets are adorned with architectural buildings dating back to the 8th century. 
Statute of Daniel O'Connell
As I stroll along these streets, taking photographs and observing the crowds, I note that the Dubliners are known for ignoring the stop cross walk signs; simply when the opportunity arises they cross the street even though the little red man is glaring at them.  Eventually, I learn to go with the crowds in a mindful but anxious manner.  But I notice that the drivers accommodate the pedestrians. How charming! The Statue of Daniel O'Connell is prominent on O'Connell Street. He is known as the liberator of Ireland.

Trinity College, Dublin

Trinity College is abound with history that has unique but drab-looking buildings. The Book of Kells and the Long Room Library are housed in one of these buildings. The Book of Kells contains lavishly decorated script by the monks, in Latin, of the four gospels. It began on the Island of Iona near Scotland and later to avoid persecution they moved to Ireland to complete the scripts. 

The Long Room Library, Trinity College, Dublin
I spent a significant amount of time walking around The Long Room Library taking pictures of the busts of my favourite philosophers; John Locke--political philosopher and Socrates--Greek Philosopher.

Bust of Socrates
Bust of Locke

On a Saturday, Sr. Liz shows us the sights of the outskirts of Dublin. We stop for a long walk on the walkway in Clontarf, then proceed to view the Irish Sea from the Summit at Howth. We continue to Malahide for lunch and then onto to Dun Laoghaire for a quick memory visit to Carysfort Park where Sr. Tryphonia, my sister, resided when she was in novitiate with the Sisters of Mercy. I used to visit her while I was in London some fifty years ago. Carysfort Park
Sr. Tryphonia and I at the summit in Howth
is now a Business School and no longer belongs to the Sisters of Mercy.

We drive back to Beaumont via the Dublin city streets passing the High Tech area where companies like Google have their offices. We cross over the Samuel Beckett Bridge that is shaped like a harp. Very fine piece of architecture.

Samuel Beckett Bridge, Dublin
The next five days I take a small bus tour of South - South West Ireland.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Book Review: The Ever After of Ashwin Rao by Padma Viswanathan

The Ever After of Ashwin Rao is a narrative on the aftermath, some twenty years later, of the Air India flight that was blown up over the Atlantic Ocean near the coast of Ireland en route to New Delhi. The author, through the main character Ashwin Rao, explores the reality of the grieving families who try to cope without their loved ones lost in the ocean some of the bodies were never recovered.  

Ashwin Rao, an Indian Psychologist, lived in Canada but later moved back to Delhi leaving behind his girlfriend in Ottawa.  He practises psychology in Delhi. His trip back to Canada in 2004 was to study the grieving families, including his relative. He listens, observes and takes copious notes on the act of grieving and in rare instances almost acts as psychologist to some.  But steps back as soon as he realizes that his task was to study the families and not practise psychology with them. 

The narrative evolves as the reader becomes aware that most of the passengers of Indian origin are Canadian citizens and yet the Canadian Government barely acknowledges this important fact. The hopelessness of the attendance at the trials held in Vancouver that highlighted the errors and discrepancies that illustrated the lack of justice.  All the while, Ashwin was studying the families and noted how they grieved or not for their lost relatives. 

Viswanathan describes, through this narrative, how the families attempt to move forward in their lives; some are successful while others continue to struggle.  Towards the end of the narrative, the readers are faced with a bizarre turn of events for one of the families.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Book Review: Option B by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant: Non-fiction

Authors Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant collaborated in writing Option B, a notable non-fiction resource on facing adversity, building resilience, and finding joy.  In the introduction, Sandberg indicates that the pieces written in the first person are to be attributed to her and anything written in the third person are Grant's contributions.

Sandberg portrays a profound picture of the sudden death of her spouse while on a trip in Mexico.  She explains how it happened and the immediate aftermath of her discovery of her spouse dying and what happens next. Sandberg delves into the reality of her spouse being no more and returning home to tell her young children this heartbreaking fact of their father gone forever. Sandberg's contributions are a powerful depiction of grappling with loss and that after the emotional survival there is sunshine with a difference.

Whereas Grant's contributions focuses on a variety of losses originating from divorce and other forces of life.  As a reader these juxtaposition situations cause a re-focus of moving from one situation to another with very different emotional impacts and yet resolving the issues to assist in advancing with day-to-day living despite the loss one encounters.

Option B serves different audiences; it is difficult to determine how to rate this resource.  If you are seeking to identify with Sandberg's situation then focus on her pieces. But if you have other issues stemming from a different kind of loss then focus on Grant's contributions. It was a puzzling read to move from one situation to another.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Book Review: Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen - A Memoir

Out of Africa is a memoir of Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke written under the pen name Isak Dinesen. The author reflects on the seventeen years of her life in Kenya beginning in 1913 which was then known as British East Africa and later became a colony of Great Britain. It is a commentary from a European perspective of that era.

Dinesen describes the day-to-day living on a coffee plantation that she owns and operates. Her vivid accounts of interacting with the Kikuyu, Masai and Somali are almost startling in her depiction of the natives as being almost animal like. They understand the wild animals and know how to act in their presence and accordingly live in harmony with these wild animals. She engages in shooting these animals if they interfere with her lifestyle on the plantation and that of her squatters who live on plots of land on the periphery of this plantation. They are all her employees. There are various stories of some specific employees who have the greatest impact on her lifestyle. In each of these stories Dinesen distinguishes these employees by character and personality and in so doing favours one group over the other.

She has African trails in her courtyard; decisions are made about a variety of disagreements, arguments and even payment methods for loss of life that occur as a result of accidents. Through her portrayal of these events, the reader is put in a juxtaposition of being in praise of Karen Blixen while at the same time observing the power structure of the white settler over the local African people.

There are no descriptions of her marriage partner, her first husband, Swedish Baron Bror van Blixen-Finecke. But Dinesen does sketch her second partner, a British nobleman, Denys Finch-Htton who appears to be mostly on safaris within the country and does drop by for short stays with her at the plantation. Her fond descriptions of his demise in Kenya are notable. It is evident her life in Kenya was one of isolation with occasional visits from other white settlers and her few necessary trips into Nairobi.

Throughout the reading of this memoir, it is clearly evident that it is written during the time of the white colonial era by a white settler. It aptly captures the frame of mind of these white inhabitants of Kenya. There is no mention that the land was confiscated by the white settlers and accordingly apportioned to the Europeans; in return these Europeans employed the Africans to work on the land that belonged to them and not to the colonists.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Book Review: Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood - Fiction

Review: Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed is an insightful retelling of The Tempest
Special to The Globe and Mail
Published Friday, Oct. 14, 2016 10:55AM EDT

Illusions, even when we know they are illusions, have an awesome power. They entice, transform, avenge, torment, restore. The complex power of illusion-building is a central preoccupation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, one of the Bard’s most wondrous and enigmatic plays. In The Tempest, magic – though illusory – is still potently seductive, dangerous, cathartic and restorative, like theatre itself.

So it is in Margaret Atwood’s contemporary retelling of the play, Hag-Seed.

The story takes place in a small town in present day Ontario. Felix Phillips is the edgy and unorthodox artistic director of the Makeshiweg Festival. He’s getting ready to direct The Tempest, starring himself as the play’s infamous magician, Prospero. He hopes the production will help him reconnect with his dead daughter, Miranda, tragically gone from illness at the age of three. Just before the play goes into rehearsal, he is fired and replaced by scheming nemesis Tony (Antonio, anyone?).

Felix goes into hiding for 12 years, living in a cave-esque dwelling, brooding upon revenge and talking to the imaginary ghost of his daughter, Miranda. Though Felix is cognizant of the complex illusion he creates in Miranda, he continues to indulge himself and cultivate her image, allowing her to age as a child.

Following nine years of shifty solitude, Felix – now going by the pseudonym F. Duke – gets a job offer to teach literacy to the prisoners in the Fletcher County Correctional Institute. He decides to have his prisoners put on productions of Shakespeare’s plays. When the program faces cuts by evil Tony and his ilk of ministers, Felix decides to put on a special, interactive production of The Tempest. His production, which forces the real world and the theatrical world to conflate, seeks revenge on his enemies and stars Felix as the enigmatic, vengeful and ever complex sorcerer, Prospero. This play inside the play is, itself, a brilliant intermingling of the world of Hag-Seed and The Tempest.

If The Tempest is Shakespeare’s most wondrous play, Atwood’s Hag-Seed is, in every way, a wonder. Part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series – in which A-list writers were commissioned to rewrite the plays as novels in honour of Shakespeare’s 400-year anniversary – Hag-Seed recasts Shakespeare’s timeless appeal. As an adaptation, Hag-Seed is a work of genius. Atwood doesn’t shy away from any of the play’s ambiguities and complexities, but embraces them fully, performing and interrogating them into the novel’s Matryoshka doll of a plot. Her reimagined characters each add their own shade of meaning, their unique understanding of freedom and imprisonment. Atwood makes room in her novel for all of these voices, all of these possibilities. One of the many pleasures of the novel is reading a prisoner’s speculation on Caliban’s origin story as well as his rap-like chant rant. The Bard, I think, would approve.

Like The Tempest, in Atwood’s Hag-Seed one thing is never just one thing. Felix, a.k.a. Prospero, is both the victim of one plot and the master manipulator of another. The actors are also prisoners – dangerous but vulnerable. The means of vengeance – the theatre – are also the means of forgiveness and grace. Illusion is also truth. Atwood’s choice to stage The Tempest in a prison exposes these conflicting roles and the many kinds of imprisonment that the play engages. The play after all, as she so rightly observes, is about prisons. But here, prisoners are performers, just as Felix is acting out of his own prison of grief and desire for vengeance. And even though we have been backstage all along, watching Felix assemble the tools and mechanisms of his revenge, he hides from us as any good magician would. The climax is still a wondrous surprise.

The novel, of course, sparkles with Atwood’s characteristic wit and play with language. She deftly weaves the language of Shakespeare into her taut and ever shimmering prose, making the lines sing. And there is the pleasure, too, of Shakespeare’s curses – the only curse words the prisoners are allowed to use. A joyful celebration of Shakespeare’s high and low language, from insults like “whoreson” and “hagseed” to enigmatic lines like “This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine.”

For readers familiar with The Tempest, Atwood’s deeply insightful and complex engagement with the play will delight and awe. For Atwood fans new and old, Hag-Seed is sheer delight – wonderful in every sense. Reading it will no doubt spark a desire to return to the play. As with theatre, its illusions seduce and we willingly allow ourselves to be seduced. Felix says of the Bard, “Shakespeare has something for everyone, because that’s who his audience was: everyone.” These are apt words for Hag-Seed too. In this shimmering tale that celebrates Shakespeare’s tricky genius, his immortal reach, Atwood has given us something for everyone.

My Comments: It is a tale that brings to the surface the human emotions of sadness and sorrow with a masterful illustration of a strong desire to rise up in times of despair through a subtle but revengeful manner.  Atwood's language prowess is clearly evident throughout the novel. It is an excellent read.