From Vaughan Williams to dim sum

October 24, 2006

Plenty of variety since last I blogged. We have seen the first of this winter’s snow, first from the air on our flight in PTN—before we descended to circuit height at Lachute, we could see the whiteness sprinkled all over the Mont Tremblant massif—and a day later we sat at Gerry and Isobel’s watching the heavy wet snowflakes settle on the branches of the Gatineau Park trees.

This season’s exhibition at the National Gallery features many paintings of snow in the works of Clarence Gagnon, any of which make ideal Christmas cards, and though I appreciate Gagnon’s desire to advertise that scenery north of the Baie St Paul (making it even more picturesque by a judicious omisson of telegraph poles and a deliberate sharpening of the mountain peaks), I actually preferred the works of the other artist on display, Edwin Holgate, his contemporary, whose images are less prettified, therefore more interesting. The faces of his portraits have a sternness or solemnity about them that hide as much as they reveal. I like that.

Come to think of it, another contemporary of theirs was Vaughan Williams, some of whose Songs of Travel (1904) Chris and I have been studying lately and trying to learn, to words by Robert Louis Stevenson. The singer, or vagabond, tramps briskly through the British countryside glorying in his lack of responsibilities. Now there’s an unrealistic scenario if ever I saw one, but so romantic! Anyway, this chap is more robust than the hero of Schubert’s Winterreise, even though dead (we think) by the end of the last song, in which his footsteps fade away in the last four bars.

Yesterday I was treated to a dim sum brunch, served with leaf tea, yum cha, at a spacious restaurant in China town, liberally decorated with sinuous dragons and chandeliers. My Chinese friend, a Mandarin speaker, thought that the Cantonese words “dim sum” meant “little treats” but according to the Wikipedia, “touch the heart” is a better translation. The savoury snacks—mostly some form of shrimp dumpling in a wrapping of glutinous, translucent rice flour, but also chickens’ feet, baby squid and the like—come in bamboo steamer baskets served from trolleys by the many waitresses, the accompanying green tea served from a pot on the table into egg cup sized cups that were never allowed to get empty.

Tomorrow, back to a description of Munich’s Oktoberfest that I’ve been showing to my friends in the German conversation group and we shall be imagining full tankards of beer borne by Dirndl-clad serving wenches to the long tables under the chestnut trees.

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