First Steps in the New Year

We’re approaching the first steps of the New Year 2009. Speaking of steps, that reminds me, both our calendar and that of the Maya of Central America has 365 days in a year. On a few expeditions to Mexico, when I was still agile and able, I’d climb the 365 steps of ancient Mayan and Aztec pyramids (the number of steps symbolizing a full calendar year.) By the way, do you know the trick to climbing pyramids?

Mexico is in on our radar screen these days. What I find fascinating whenever we have the opportunity to go there, is not just the architecture and keen intelligence represented by these ancient sites, but today to witness the vibrance of its artists and craftspeople.

On each trip we notice new and different designs have surfaced, often combined with a highly developed sense of colour. It’s evidence of a vast reservoir in the genes of these people, this creative diversity and originality. Mexico is so nearby, yet so far removed from our North American, often vulgar display of goods and colours. During the holidays we went to a major shopping mall, just to look, and once again, this non-presence of aesthetics and harmony made itself seen and known, with a few exceptions.
In the mall we noticed all kinds of sales. What always has my attention is that the price of something hits home and has a common language, but when it comes to talking about an object by colour, it becomes more difficult to describe to someone who has not seen a particular item you’re talking about. For example, on display were several sweaters and dresses. Blue, Green, Red. Say I tell someone, “There is a beautiful blue sweater for sale, but you must decide, for it’ll go quickly”, how is that person going to know which colour of Blue we are referring to?
Unless we’d take a sample of the fabric, or bring the person to whom we reveal the “sale” opportunity, he or she will not know which colour we speak of. Now here comes the next step. “It’s priced at $59”. Now this immediately rings a bell. See what we mean? Colour has to be seen, it cannot be talked about. In our society and culture the monetary value of something is at the front burner, but often the magic and mystery of colour is ignored or unknown.
Yet, from the moment we open our infant eyes to the instant we close them forever, we’re exposed to colour. It is a mistake to think that only fashion designers, interior decorators, chemists or artists need to know about colour. The magic and mystery is there for all to see, study, explore, apply, feel and enjoy. Going back to pyramid-climbing: you do it in zig-zag fashion!
Enjoy your first steps into the young Year! Hasta luego, Henri


Another year - going and coming

Some of us may not know at times if “we’re coming or going”, but not so with our Western calendar, it’s always clear what day, month and year it is. I say “our” because of course there are other cultures and civilizations that have their own calendars. “End of an error”, era and drama; now we’re all (or almost all) waiting for Obama.

Speaking of traditions and beginnings, let me give you a taste of how New Year was celebrated during my boyhood in the Lowlands, before WWII in the 1930’s. First, supervised by our school teachers, we had to design our own “Best Wishes” card for our parents.

Then, we had to compose our own New Year’s message, with some kind of resolution that we would try to behave, whatever that may be. (Just like today when we hear grown-ups making resolutions but rarely live up to them.)

Back to the special card, the idea was on January 1, we children would have to stand in front of our parents and read out loud our promises we wrote in our self-made “Hallmark” cards. How is that for overcoming stage fright or public speaking phobia? All the children, from the age they could read and write, had to go through this ordeal.

Now, the evening before (New Year’s Eve), without fail each year, as many members of the whole family that could be corralled together would come to our home. Aunts, uncles, grannies, grandpas, nieces, cousins - you get the idea. This would be on a rotating basis, for example one year we’d all go to an uncle’s home, then the next year to our grandparents, etc. The youngsters played games on their own, and so too the elders, usually cards.

The masterpiece by Jan Steen comes to mind which depicts a typical hectic household during this festive time, sometimes a bit chaotic. So even today in the Lowlands if someone’s household is in disorder, we call it “the household of Jan Steen”.

Even though some of the adults may have been teetotallers, on this occasion two traditional beverages were present: Advocaat (an egg-yolk and alcohol concoction), and a drink with fermented raisins. 

The raisins had been put into jars months ahead, with alcohol and honey. Both drinks were consumed with a teaspoon! And, let us not forget, hot cocoa! And coffee.

Then there were the Oliebollen. These are ping-pong ball (or sometimes tennis ball) size dough deep-fried in hot oil. Before serving they are coated with sugar powder. They taste like a doughnut. Appelflappen were flatter than the Oliebollen, with apple inside.

During the evening the fragrances from these goodies and beverages wandered through the house and into our nostrils, awakening a constant “We want another one” sort of thing. Long before twelve o’clock we young children were supposed to be in bed, but at the stroke of Midnight (on Grandfather’s clock), the Happy Wishes came out, the embracing, kisses, and a type of “Auld Lang Syne” singing. 

How do I know all this? Because I peeked, that’s how. 

Have a smooth slide into 2009, and easy on the whatever.


On "Intelligent Electricity"

Round One of the holiday feasting is over. Round Two – the changing of one year into another, lurks nearby. “Old 2008” is getting by, just so! New-to-be born 2009 awaits on the horizon. We had an unexpected invitation to a pleasant Yuletide dinner at the friendly home of an astronomer. Since we don’t have a vehicle, we were fetched by his colleague, an astrophysicist no less, who specializes in Black Holes, thank you.
This gave us an opportunity to see all the outdoor holiday decorations with their multitude of designs, imagery and lights, in all colours of the spectrum. Always a magical, fairy-tale like phenomena, even more so on a snowy wintry night, a rarity here in Victoria. Sitting thus in the car, being driven by the astrophysicist, I was looking at these multi-coloured lights and wondered (still do) what is “behind” all this electricity?
You know, we take a lot for granted. We make use of all the frontier gadgets, from cell phone to Jumbo jet, and those “cities of the seas”, called cruise ships. Ever wondered what’s it all about? We flip a switch, push a button, Presto! Abracadabra, the lights and equipment work.
Yes, there are also batteries to provide energy, and of course the more progressive among us have solar panels or windmills, however anything we plug-in, or is plugged-in and needs to function, we switch, push or ‘whisper’ and voila! It works. How come?
“Well, that’s because of electricity, my child.”
“What’s electricity?”
“Well, ahem, ahem, Energy, my child.”
“Does it think and feel, does it know what it’s doing?”
“Ahem, well now, you’ve got me!”
See what I mean? There has to be some kind of intelligence, some consciousness behind it all.
That’s why I call it Intelligent Electricity. In the world of hydro and energy companies, they use the term intelligent electricity to refer to grids and eco-smart systems, but my reference is to the mystery of its consciousness.
Now, all those colours we witnessed, speeding by at an average of 60 km per hour, are they also not a mystery? And magical? Of course. We see the same colour range in the Rainbow, except these Yuletide little lamps and lights are an assortment of that spectrum.

And while our astrophysicist friend drove us back home on that snowy night, wondering and pondering about the mystery of this “Intelligence of Electricity”, my hungry eyes (and mind) harvested all that light and colour on that Christmas night, tapping those images and sights, sending it all to my brain, to understand . . . Being in the presence of an astrophysicist, someone who explores far-away galaxies, I return to my age-old question, “Where does all that Space come from, where the great ballroom dance of the Universe takes place?” ‘Signing off for now, Henri


The Real Meaning of Rudolph's Red Nose

We had a few requests to elaborate, if possible, on the symbolic meaning of “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”. We gladly oblige, allowing us to share my interpretation with a wider audience. It is very wintry across the continent including here on the West Coast so it’s not only the ‘season’ but here in Victoria we have a rare White Yuletide.
In 1938 Gene Autry, the singing cowboy, made “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” famous. It was back in 1946 and a big hit on Radio Luxembourg (US Armed Forces network) where I first heard it. The man who wrote the lyrics was an American advertising executive, but “Rudolph” is poetry. Music was composed by Johnny Mark.

I’m not sure how well Robert May knew the bohemian heartbeat of poets and artists, but he definitely hit the mark when it comes to how talent often goes unrecognized. Most artists, the gifted, visionary ones, rarely receive recognition while they’re alive. There are a few, like Picasso, but it’s uncommon.
Many artists are acknowledged by the public only when others, such as highly-popular figures in society, bestow accolades (whether they be painters, composers, sculptors, even some scientists or inventors, and last but not least, a messiah.)
Now, here we have a reindeer with a red nose, and if you care to look a bit closer, you’ll notice that it glows. All the other reindeer called him names and wouldn’t allow Rudolph to join in their games. (Ostracized). They mocked and made fun of him, humiliating poor Rudolph.
Vincent van Gogh comes to mind. He was treated “less than a dog”. Likewise with Emily Carr here in Canada.; she was not welcomed with open arms either!
On the other hand, Santa could be seen as Time. Through the passing of time, the well-deserved recognition of genius (Rudolph) is recognized, revealing something that was always there from the beginning.
Finally, because of this time lapse, we honour someone special, someone who gave the world beauty and treasures - - food for the soul, in this case the toys and goodies carried by Santa on his sleigh, guided by Rudolph’s glowing nose through the fog (ignorance). Light in Darkness.
Then of course, all the reindeers love Rudolph, and sing out in glee. Just like today we all love the Impressionists or Vincent van Gogh, or whomever, a century after their demise.
Now, yes, we can sing and say, “Rudolph, you’ll go down in history”. But while alive, most great artists had to live in misery.
Well, that’s my version of this popular Yuletide song, which has also been judged by history and become an evergreen. Happy sleigh rides! Henri

You know Dasher, Dancer, Prancer and Vixen,
Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen,
But do you recall,
The most famous reindeer of all?
Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer
had a very shiny nose.
And if you ever saw him,
you would even say it glows.

All of the other reindeer
used to laugh and call him names.
They never let poor Rudolph
join in any reindeer games.

Then one foggy Christmas Eve
Santa came to say:
"Rudolph with your nose so bright,
won't you guide my sleigh tonight?"

Then all the reindeer loved him
as they shouted out with glee,
Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer,
you'll go down in history


'Tis the Season

‘Tis the season! It’s still snowing here in Victoria, very applicable for Yuletide. Eat, drink, be merry. Everywhere people are visiting friends, going to parties and enjoying traditional dishes and mouth-watering treats over the holidays. But have you ever wondered how Indigenous peoples survived and what their diet was during the long, cold winters of North America? Or, in places like Russia and Scandinavia?

Not only wondered at their survival in freezing temperatures (and surviving they did!), but marvelled at their rich knowledge of flora and fauna?
Speaking of special dishes, when you’ve travelled and seen a bit of the world like we have, you not only encounter ‘primitive’ food markets but enter a time-tunnel and see how things used to be for all of us, long ago.
On these expeditions you need to adjust and adapt to the local food, e.g. sometimes a local delicacy such as in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, sheep eyes in couscous. Or with the Massai of eastern Africa, where I drank “cocktails” of milk and cow’s blood, and elsewhere in Africa munched on fried termites.

[In order to survive, in my boyhood in the Lowlands during WWII we lived on potato peels and flower bulbs, or roots of non-toxic plants. Hunger always triumphs over ‘revulsion’. I know! When some people here in the West say they’re hungry, they mean they have an appetite; many have never experienced real hunger.]

Speaking of markets in far-away lands, if you live in a city in North America you may have a Chinatown. In which case there’s no need to travel to Timbuktu or Harar, Ethiopia to come across foods which for us may be unappetizing.
Here in Victoria’s Chinatown there’s a vast selection of traditional foods, often dried or in powder, as well as many (the so-called aphrodisiacs) which deplete our global rhino, bear or shark population, just to name a few. Of course many nations have been on protein-source diets which we may find unpalatable (such as dogs, considered a delicacy in some parts ofthe Far East.) Recently in the Mekong valley forests, another source of protein was discovered: a spider, the size of a dinner plate.

Going back to those long, cold winters, what were the food sources for Indigenous peoples? Of course there was meat preserved from the hunt, wild fowl, or smoked and dried fish from the oceans and rivers.
Any plant life that could be, was dried, or roots gathered or cultivated (like the primordial carrot which the English call “Queen Anne’s Lace”). There was great knowledge of berries, innocent and not-so-innocent plants, toxic and non-toxic, healing and medicinal ones, plus how to find much-treasured honey. There were smaller forms of Maize, and other earlier versions of what we know as corn, another staple of their diet.
Then of course we came along with our know-it-all attitude and began to ‘proselytize’ the Indigenous peoples, here and elsewhere, upsetting many a “corn” “apple” or whatever-cart, and in the process caused lots of cultural conflicts and irreparable damage.
Much of what we know today, we originally learned from the Indigenous peoples. But their practice of working the land was more what we’d call Horticulture, compared with our Agriculture. (Or Agribusiness.) Our agriculture exhausts the soil. Horticulture sustains it. That’s the big difference.
Tables are turning - - now at the rate we’re depleting our food supplies around the world, we are learning from Indigenous Elders about their vast knowledge of Nature.
So in the future instead of parents telling their children, “If you don’t eat your Brussel sprouts, you’ll get no plum pudding”, we may hear “If you don’t finish your steamed locusts, there’ll be no chocolate-dipped ants for you!”
Or our future gourmet meals may contain grubs, lizards, scorpions, beetles, locusts, worms and other protein-containing delicacies.
Bon app├ętit! Henri


More Winter Tales

“I don’t know if it was snowing for nine days when I was six, or six days when I was nine . . .”. Dylan Thomas’ “A Boy’s Christmas in Wales” always brings back memories.
I can relate to that, as I’m sure it does to many. Of course, my boyhood wasn’t in Wales, but the Lowlands. Les Pays Bas, die Nieder-landen, “Nether” lands, which included Flanders at one time in history.
Our home in the countryside had only one source of heating, actually two, but the big iron stove with a long metal pipe going to the chimney and heated with coal was only used to prepare meals. The other source was a small gas stove. We had no electricity.
Because heating sources were scarse, the bedrooms, bathroom and hall were very cold in wintertime.

The only advantage was when the ‘Great Designer of Winter’ created fairy-tale like, lace looking images on the windows. Here they call him Jack Frost.
My apologue (children’s story) “The Icy-Crystal See-Through No-Name Man” is all about this topic. You can read this and other stories at: http://www.millennia.org/artist/stories.htm
In my boyhood winters were often a lengthy affair, and if many frosts had gone over the ponds, moats and small waterways, we would skate. In order to learn this skill, we’d hold onto a chair, pushing it along the ice, for balance, like elderly folk use walkers today.
Our skates weren’t the state of the art models like today. They were made of wood, with a carved, curly front, all held together by leather straps. The early skates were made of animal bones.
When winter was very long, with many nights of frost, in Friesland the famous “Elfstedentocht” would be held. A gruelling, lengthy skating event covering the distance between eleven (“elf”) cities throughout the waterways of Friesland. That’s why the skaters from Holland always do so well in the Olympics and other international competitions.
And yes, in our childhood we made snow men and women, and enjoyed many snowball battles. Children will always be children, no?
Enjoy the hot cocoa. Signing off, Henri


Snow in Victoria!

Remember the song from South Pacific, “Hello Young Lovers, Wherever You Are, I now have a love of my own”? Well, wherever you are in the regular winter and snow zone, we also have snow of our own. Not just a flurry or two. A “white-out”.
No sooner did we complete a five-part series of blog posts on our Antarctica adventure, than pronto, we’re into snowflakes right here in Victoria. Not just a flurry or two but a good carpeting of these magic flakes. I say magic, because we’re told, that not one of these intricately-designed ‘visitors’ is alike.
This seems incredible, as we watch the early morning snow drift, leaving hardly any space between the flakes. To think each one is unique.
Then again, the magic and mystery of such phenomenon doesn’t remain with a snowflake, everything is unique - - - you, me and all that we see (and don’t see).
It’s interesting how a snowfall rekindles memories of yesteryear. Back in the Lowlands, as a child and until we were about five years old, in wintertime my father used to roll us in the snow in our birthday suits. Afterwards he’d rub us down with a large towel. I can still sense the glowing feeling of my body afterwards.
We know the Victoria snow will not last long, unless of course there’s another script in store for the days to come.
Whatever the case, from our perch here on the seventh floor we can see people tobogganing or kids having snowball fights, while we know that further Up Island, snow dolls appear like mushrooms.
We’re usually on the ocean at this time of year, either the South Pacific, Caribbean or Indian Ocean, so for us the snowfall is a pleasant surprise. Of course this isn’t our first experience of the white stuff. Sixteen winters in Toronto tell the tale. Plus five winters in Banff, Alberta.
Looking out our window, and being a visual person by nature, we observe it’s not “all white” out there. The colours of passing cars, the attire of passers-by walking on the path, and many Yuletide lights here in James Bay village all make their appearance. Proving again that colour speaks to us even when surrounded by all that white. Something I knew a long time ago, and make visible in my work.
White is the Mother of all Colours, although Goethe said, “Colour is decayed Light”. That’s all very well, but now in Victoria, where we’re carpeted by snow, all the colours sing! A la prochaine, Henri


Buttercups Banished!

For those of you who are familiar with my blog posts, you’ll be aware we seldom comment on politics or religion. Both subjects are not much to laugh about, but to quote George Bernard Shaw again, “If you’re going to tell people the Truth, make them laugh. Otherwise they’ll kill you.”
And since we still have much work to do on this Ocean-Earth planet, zooming through space, we thought it wise to stay away from those touchy topics.
However, on the political front, we cannot help but feel there may be a fresh breeze on its way. End of a big ‘error’, start of a new era?
Something caught my attention in our local newspaper, although mostly I read the comics. The headline was “DICTIONARY BANISHES BUTTERCUPS AND SAINTS – Academics protest limits on language”. Well, yours truly is far from what is termed an academic, but I agree with their protests.

It’s about the Oxford Junior Dictionary in England. They’ve dropped from their latest edition words such as “aisle”, “bishop”, “chapel”, “empire”, “monarch” and replaced them with words such as “blog”, “broadband”, and “celebrity”.
Dozens of words related to the countryside have also been culled, such as “sycamore”, and that’s where I get my fins (and mane) up, since “buttercup” was one of the words taken out.

This doesn’t do service to children, who need countryside more than ever. I’m sure they’re comfortable with “iPod”, “MP3 player”, “blog”, etc but no need to throw the baby out with the bath water.

But just (well, not just . . . 35 years ago), when I wrote a children’s story titled, “How The Buttercups Came Back”, the Oxford Junior Dictionary has the nerve to banish them! You can find this and other stories on my websit.


Antarctica, Last Episode: Not Exactly Your Pioneering Explorers' Expedition

Standing at the deck railing, watching this unusual spectacle of passengers dressed in full ballroom attire, being transferred from another ship to our vessel, you couldn’t help thinking how far removed we were from Shackleton, Scott and Amundsen expeditions. We may have been in Antarctica, but were pampered. (Young Presidents Organization = “Young Pampered Omnivores.)

Where is the caviar and champagne?” became the mantra of the new arrivals as they boarded our ship.

In the meantime Diana Krall was playing piano and singing her jazz tunes and seemed tireless. Remember where we were, in the Antarctic.

Food and beverage galore. As for the passengers, partying they did. Colds and flu forgotten. On the stroke of midnight, champagne in hand, the “Happy New Year’s!”, “Happy Millennium”, and “Auld Lang Syne”s rang out. Everyone exchanged good wishes, made resolutions and danced until the early hours.

The ship was of course all decorated for the season, with lights and Christmas trees, with crew and passengers sporting a Santa toque.

Some party-ed as if the new Millennium was turning the world into another ‘spin’.

Next episode – not only had the Zodiac drivers ferried the passengers to the ‘mothership’, now, the morning-after, this all had to be repeated, but in reverse order. Still the ball gowns, high heels and formal black-tie attire in place, albeit the wearers were in a different shape.

But, hold on. There was something else. Some of the passengers from our vessel, “Ocean Explorer I” (OEI) now changed over to one of the two smaller ships, which had a different itinerary. Now, the luggage also had to be transferred, via Zodiac. This was New Year’s Day.

Not to be outdone, those who had changed from their ship to the ‘mothership’ stayed on, and their luggage had to be brought over, again, by Zodiac.

You can imagine everyone giving directions at once to the Zodiac drivers, “Mine is the aluminum one”, “Ours if the one with the orange band around it”,Ours is the set of three Luis Vuitton”. And so it went.
Natasha and I just stood there, once again, wondering ‘Is this really happening?’ Yes, it was. Well, some luggage got lost, or put in the wrong cabin, but nobody’s perfect.

New Year’s Day, some passengers decided to visit the Hot Springs ashore, and once again the Zodiac crew were called upon to fulfill these wishes. And so, January 1, 2000, Millennium Year Day 1, several Homo Sapiens found themselves nice and warm, splashing in the Hot Springs of Deception Island’s caldera. All this was the brainchild of someone in Toronto.

After re-crossing the Drake Passage, again a tumultuous passage, during which we saw transluscent icebergs of all shapes, sizes, and colours from white to cobalt pastel tints, some with penguins as passengers.

The OEI docked at Ushuaia. We remained on the ship for another 3 months, but the YPO passengers were heading home. “Good-bye”, “Au revoir”, “Auf weidersehn”, “Tot ziens”, “Hasta luega”, “Arrivederci”. Hugs and tears as if they’d been together a year instead of a week.

Disembarkation followed, then the re-embarkation of our “old gang” who’d been celebrating the Millennium in Santiago, Chile (see earlier post).
Oh yes, we returned once more to Antarctica, continuing OEI’s around-the-world itinerary, with the regular passengers. Again we crossed the Drake Passage, but did not return to Deception Island. Once again we witnessed the awesome beauty of many icebergs, and of course penguins galore.

Well, we thought we’d share this ‘not your everyday’ New Year celebration, while at the same time we have now a record of it, before the passage of time blurs the recall. Signing off for now, Henri


Part 4: Celebrating the Millennium in Antarctica

The eco-systems of the Antarctic region consist of a relatively limited number of wildlife species (at least the kind seen with the bare eye). As anywhere, this system relies on inter-dependence with one another. 
Not only was the “Ocean Explorer I” (OEI) the first-ever ship of that size to have entered the caldera at Deception Island (680 passengers, plus crew, see previous two posts), but at the same time we had a rendez-vous with two other, smaller vessels which were part of this special Millennium “expedition”. Altogether some 1,400 people (crew included) were gathered at one time, in one fragile place.Such an invasion would create big problems if it were a regular event. Looking back, this was far from setting a good eco-example. In general this vast white wilderness had few visitors. Now, 10 years later, tourism to Antarctica is very popular.But what is one to do? There will always be ‘arrivals’ and ‘departures’ on life’s journey. Synchronicity? This week an Argentine passenger ship with 165 people aboard, “Ushuaia”, has grounded on the West Antarctic Peninsula, near Wilhelmina Bay. A naval vessel from Chile is on its way for the rescue operations.While a large variety of wildlife is not to be found, there are of course millions of all kinds of penguins. You also see albatross, petrels, snowy sheathbills, southern gulls, skuas (!), cormorants, terns and leopard seals. Whales are scarce now, none in the caldera. There are however several abandoned wrecks of old whaling stations in Antarctica.Turning to the Millennium festivities, here is the line-up of entertainers and guest speakers for this historic trip: The “Moffats”, for the youngsters and young-at-heart; fiddler Natalie MacMaster; Art Garfunkel; Diana Krall (from Vancouver Island where we reside); The Chieftains; actor Dan Acykroyd, and speakers Robert Kennedy Jr and F.W. deKlerck from South Africa (who won the Nobel Peace Prize with Nelson Mandela).Let us open the curtains to the extraordinary spectacle and planned transport from the two smaller ships to OEI, via Zodiacs.Picture this: we’re in the Antarctic, inside the volcanic caldera of Deception Island, after three days on an ‘unruly moving platform’. Gathered together are one large vessel (OEI), and two smaller ships.All the Young Presidents Organization (YPO) passengers from the two smaller ships had to be transported to what was termed the ‘mothership’ by Zodiac. All of them were decked out in full New Year’s Eve gala attire. Yes, just like the Ritz! The ladies – high-heeled shoes, long ball gowns, wearing glittering jewelry, plus hats, gloves, fur or warm coats.The gents – formal, black tie, and shiny shoes. In the Zodiacs, my friends, in the Antarctic.And wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles, not one mishap, not one accident. How is that for competent and diligent skill by the team of Zodiac drivers?Of course, credit also goes to the passengers themselves for keeping their balance with their high-heels while riding through the icy waters.Also the children were amazingly cooperative. After tearing about the ship the previous few days in the midst of the ship rolling and pitching its way through the Drake Passage (ignoring the demands by officers and crew to “hold onto the handrail”), they were orderly. It seemed almost as if some unseen hand or presence made all this function smoothly.We, Natasha and me, stood on deck and witnessed this (mad), extraordinary spectacle of transport in amazement. Coming up, fifth and final episode on the Millennium in Antarctica.


Antarctica, Part 3: First visit to the Chinstraps, Deception Island

Antarctica comes from the Greek, “Ant” (opposite) and Arktos (Bear), referring to the Polar star of the Ursa Minor constellation. Antarctica = “No/or Little Bear”. The ancient Greeks didn’t know it, but there are no polar or any kind of bears in the Antarctic, so the name is all the more fitting.
Like we mentioned in the previous post, entering the portal of Neptune’s Bellows into the caldera of Deception Island required superb navigational skill. Plus, good luck and cooperation of the elements. Our Greek captain, who’d never sailed in Antarctic waters, performed an amazing feat that December 30, 1999, one day before Millennium Eve. The whole experience of entering the caldera remains imprinted in my memory chambers.
In preparation for the Zodiac landings ashore, all the passengers attended mandatory orientations where they learned all the “do’s and don’ts” while ashore. For instance, we were advised in a friendly but firm fashion by our onboard naturalist to keep a minimum distance of 5 metres (15 ft) from the penguins, of which we would be encountering myriads. Most of the ones there are Chinstraps. We were not allowed to approach the rookeries, but we’d witness many penguins as they went to and fro the icy waters in search of food.
The Zodiac crew were skilful and diligent. Many had been specially recruited. Amongst them, they had years of experience working in the Southern Ocean. December being high summer in the Antarctic, the sun just ‘goes’ for a few moments, giving lots of daylight for the dozens and dozens of Zodiac trips.
Shore Landings: because we were such a large number of people, a special system was devised, executed with nautical discipline. You had to be all suited-up and ready to go when your number was called. The Young Presidents Organization (YPO) passengers sported the latest fashion in cold-weather gear. Not to speak of state-of-the-art camera equipment.
“Only your footprints should be left behind”, we were warned by our naturalist guide. “And remember to keep your distance from the penguins!” We were told not to come too close, but nobody seemed to have told the penguins to keep their distance from humans! 

Eagerly we stepped foot on the icy-shore. It was bitterly cold. Again, the guide said, “Don’t get too close, remember, 5 metres”. It’s all very well, but nobody seems to have told the penguins!
Penguins are very curious, but also protective of their young. Some immediately waddled over to us, as if we were family and wanting to say ‘Hi’ (and ‘stay away from my chicks’). The chicks had already lost most of their down. It’s some sight (and smell), to be in such close contact.
Penguins may waddle ashore, but once in the icy waters they “fly”. Those who return with food for the young are shiny and clean, while the ones heading out to sea are dirty, and smelly. So you have two “rows”, one going and one coming, crowded like a boulevard in a big city.
Skuas overhead are the penguins’ menace. They dive-bomb to snatch the chicks, and can also dive-bomb us humans: this I can personally vouch for! Our YPO passengers, who just a few days' ago left their sophisticated lifestyles back home, were now like children, full of awe and wonder while wandering amongst the penguins. When we returned to the Zodiac, a young girl pointed in the distance and shouted “Look, Daddy, a whale!” Our guide replied, “No, that’s the vents from the Hot Springs. Remember we’re inside a volcano.” Fire and ice! Coming soon, final episode of this Antarctic adventure. Signing off, Henri


Antarctica, Part 2: Rendez-vous at the 'Caldera'

Continuing from Part One, our vessel “Ocean Explorer I” (OEI) had to be readied for the new international passengers from Young Presidents Organization (YPO) in a very short time. The crew worked in overdrive to meet the tight schedule.
Because of all the entertainment planned for the coming week, plus Millennium Eve, extra sound equipment and lighting was brought on board. So much so, an extra generator was required. In our view, making the sound levels at the various shows much too loud! OEI was slightly larger than one of the B.C. superferries; the main lounge held only 350 or so people.
Natasha, with her background in Protocol, was asked by the cruise director if she would look after the dignitaries on board, including the family of Robert Kennedy Jr., and F.W. deKlerck and his wife. (Because we didn’t have any art classes during the YPO week, this was possible.)
We mentioned yesterday crossing the Drake Passage can be unpredictable. It’s a notorious body of water where suddenly cyclone-force winds can blow up. Plus there are huge swells created when the massive body of water circulating around the Southern Ocean has to “squeeze” through the opening between the tip of South America (Cape Horn, Tierra del Fuego) and the Antarctic Peninsula.
The YPO members and their families didn’t have their sea legs like our regular around-the-world passengers. Many had adverse reactions to pitching and rolling, making the two and half day journey a shaky affair. (Quickly weeding the landlubbers from the salties.)
Many wore what I call “mar-malade” prevention patches. I’d been to the Antarctic before, and had experienced a few elemental furies. These new passengers also brought with them seasonal winter-time bugs. Everywhere, people were coughing and wheezing. Yours truly had a mild case of bronchitis, which wasn’t helped by the fact our cabin had no heating, but that’s another story. [Yes, Natasha and I were sailing in the Antarctic, without heat in our cabin, on Coral Deck, 'way below]. Our remedy was to run for a few moments the hot shower before braving the morning.
We had excellent lecturers on board, naturalists who gave talks about the wildlife of Antarctica, also an oceanographer. And let us not forget the Zodiac drivers who played such an important role (more on that in a following post.)
The plan Millennium Eve was to make rendez-vous with two other, smaller ships at the volcano known as Deception Island. We’d enter the “caldera” through the ‘eye of the needle’: a narrow opening through the cliffs called Neptune’s Bellows, a navigational hazard at only 230 metres (754 feet) in width. The last eruption at Deception Island was 1969.
Our Greek captain (who had never been to Antarctica), was apprehensive while guiding the ship through the Bellows. To cheers from all, he succeeded in the first effort. Once inside the caldera, officers had to vigilantly hold our position, since it was not possible to anchor. At that time, we were the largest vessel to enter the caldera. On schedule, we were met by the two other vessels carrying the other YPO passengers. The plan called for everyone to join the mothership (OEI) for festivities and celebration of Millennium Eve. This will be the subject of tomorrow’s blog, because it is an epic in itself.
You had to pinch yourself to realize you were at the ‘end of the world’, where a force-10 wind could rear up at any instant, a volcano may erupt, or nearby icebergs might block the exit through Neptune’s Bellows. More to follow, tomorrow.


Antarctic Adventure, Part I

With all the focus directed on ‘good old Santa’ readying himself up in the Arctic at the North Pole, we’re turning our compass to the South Pole and the Antarctic.
Although I’d travelled to the Southern Ocean region before, nothing compared to an extraordinary, 4-month long experience we had at the turn of the millennium which brought us to Antarctica for New Year’s Eve, 1999. Anyone who has the opportunity to visit this part of the world comes back with a ‘unique’ experience.
Ours began when an ambitious Canadian travel promoter, who’d run a company sending passengers to Antarctica for several years, decided to charter a larger ship for an around-the-world-voyage. I won’t give a play-by-play of our trip, that would cover 10 blog posts at least, but the ship in question was re-named “Ocean Explorer I”, in short “OEI”. The voyage was a complete circumnavigation, lasting 127 days.

My role on board was Guest Artist & Lecturer, accompanied by Natasha, my indispensable assistant. The ship had a remarkable history. She was built during WWII as a troop transport carrier, the “General W.P. Richardson”. Very sturdy, she had an extra-thick, reinforced steel hull, and two engine rooms in the event one was torpedoed. She was a steamship, last of a breed. As a result, very quiet. Average speed on our journey was 15 knots.
Over the decades she had been owned by many different companies since she first took to the seven seas. But all along she had the same Chief Engineer, which accounted for her longevity. I won’t go into all the details about our departure from Athens, which was unbelievably chaotic to say the least. However we finally got underway, lifting anchor in Pireaus, Greece. It was 27 November, 1999, with some 680 passengers, most of whom were well-seasoned seniors, average age in the ‘70s.  All the officers were Greek.
The westbound itinerary called for several stops in remote ports-of-call such as Pitcairn Island, Easter Island, and of course the Antarctic. By the third week in December we approached Ushuaia at the tip of South America. There, a major logistical operation would occur: we’d completely “switch passengers”. Why? The Canadian operator had dreamt up a daring and ingenious “double-itinerary” to mark the Millennium. Those doing the full world cruise got off the ship for one week in Ushuaia and were flown to Santiago, the capital of Chile. There they celebrated the Millennium.
Meanwhile, a very small number of us stayed aboard the ship, and were joined by members of the Young Presidents Organization (YPO), businessmen and their families from all over the world. In addition to our ship “OEI”, the operator had also chartered three smaller vessels to carry additional YPO passengers since their group numbered almost 1,000 in all.
With clockwork precision, this changeover went ahead without a hitch. We departed Ushuaia with the new passengers, who were much younger than the world cruise passengers.

Before arriving in Antarctica, you have to cross the notorious Drake Passage, one of the roughest bodies of water on the planet. And our crossing lived up to the Drake’s reputation, two and half days of pitching and rolling. We were headed for Deception Island (more on this later), where the actual Millennium Eve festivities would take place.
The entertainers on board for this Millennium sailing were Diana Krall, the Chieftains, Dan Aykroyd, Art Garfunkel, the Moffats, Natalie MacMaster, along with guest speakers Robert Kennedy Jr. and F.W. DeKlerck who won the Nobel Peace Prize with Nelson Mandela. To be continued . . . Signing off for now, Henri


The Joy of Imagination

Good to receive comments and questions. Some, like those related to politics or religion, we leave best alone. Others, like this note from Saskatchewan, gets my attention because it deals with a subject very dear to me and may be of interest to you.
“Sir, we have two grandchildren. Tina’s in kindergarten, Tommy in first year elementary school. Like most children, they paint pictures at school and at home. When Tina paints something, we can almost always tell what it is. But Tommy’s pictures we cannot make head nor tail of. Last week the teacher asked them to make a Holiday Season picture.
Tommy splashed bright colours all over the page, and when we asked him “What’s that, Tommy?”, he replied, as if it was perfectly obvious, “That’s a Christmas tree with lots of presents under it.” (And anyone who doesn’t see it, is really dumb, as far as he’s concerned!)
His teacher seems to think his pictures are wonderful. But, is it not the teacher’s job to guide and teach pupils the foundation and beginnings? To us, Tommy’s pictures look like the dabs of a monkey, or like those pictures we see in modern galleries, and which are very pricey at that. Do you agree, sir, that school should discourage children from just splashing paint around?”

First, let me say my respects go to the teacher, for letting Tommy’s imagination roam freely. Too soon in our childhood we lose that precious gem of Imagination.
In the process of growing up, there are already many things a child has to learn and requires discipline. But at the young age of Tina and Tommy, freedom (and encouragement) to express themselves is vital. What I look for in children’s art is the colours a child uses.

In most cases, bright and joyful colours reflect a happy child. The realm of art embraces not only technical skill, but colour and imagination. Later, the required skills to learn will come, if a boy or girl wants to later pursue art. Children are children. Imagination is their world. Foundation and guidance comes later.As adults, some very mature artists express themselves through what’s called nowadays their “Inner Child”.
Many fine abstract artists do not paint non-objective art because they cannot draw, just like a pilot does not fly because he or she can’t walk. Good examples of this child-like quality in mature artists can be seen in works by Marc Chagall, Paul Klee, Joan Miro, and Karel Appel, just to name a few.
This reminds me of an experience I had back in 1959 while visiting for awhile at the home of a friend’s parents. TIME Magazine featured a full-colour reproduction of a painting by the young Karel Appel, a post-war artist from Amsterdam. The painting, titled “Woman and Ostrich”, won the coveted $10,000 Guggenheim Award in NY City. During my visit, my friend’s parents spent the whole evening looking for both the woman and the ostrich, to no avail . . .


Two Bald Eagles on our Roof

For those who live in the city, we share with you the recent visits of some wildlife. We live in an eleven-story apartment building right on Juan de Fuca Strait at the Pacific Ocean.

Two days ago, a pair of Bald Eagles decided to make our roof their cosy home. They’re called ‘Bald’ but of course that’s a misnomer. The top of their head is covered with white plumage.
I am sure these two "marauders" are plotting ways of tormenting, if not getting rid of altogether, the Blue Herons who recently started to return to the high firs in Beacon Hill Park.
We say this, because last year, a female Godzilla Eagle, all by herself, ransacked and destroyed the Blue Heron rookery in the Park.
We love both the Eagle and the Heron. What’s one to do? Not much, let Nature take its course I guess. Another visitor of late is an Elephant Seals, weighing tons, just washed up nearby here on Vancouver Island.

Then at the other end of the scale are the Hummingbirds; some species normally only found in warmer climes to the south are now being spotted more and more.
The Orcas and Salmon are become scarcer, that’s not good news. Seals, orcas and grizzlies are blamed for depleting the salmon, but how about we humans, and fish farms? We consume this delicacy on a regular basis, including ourselves. All sorts of factors including pollution and global climate change result in tricky things, creating all kinds of upheavals in the magical realm of Nature.
Bears are also spotted more close to human habitation. We’re removing their habitat and food sources, so are they not allowed to live? Small wonder that on a few occasions there are encounters between the bears and us (the spoilers and intruders) in what was their territory, their domain, until recently. There were here long before us.
Where will it all end? In the meanwhile we keep looking for other newcomers, but when we spot pink dolphins from the Amazon then we’ll really know all is not as it should be. In the meanwhile, that pair of Bald Eagles above our heads are plotting something. Just as well we don’t speak their language, or they, ours. Signing off, Henri


From Holy Bishop to Ho-Ho-Ho Santa

Some people look upon the word “Xmas” as sacrilegious, but it comes from the Greek “Xristos”, Christ. Xmas has been used in the UK for centuries. My previous post mentioned the third century Bishop from Smyrna, Nicholas and how we knew him in my childhood in the Lowlands, as Sinterklaas or St. Nicolaas. (Who in turn became North America’s “Santa Claus”.)  In the Netherlands and Flanders, St. Nicolaas rides a horse and is accompanied by Zwarte Piet (Black Peter), a Moor.  Santa Claus rides a sleigh pulled by reindeer. And of course back at the North Pole he’s got his helpers, the elves.

In my boyhood, Sinterklaas was “the” day of the holiday season, much more anticipated than Xmas Day. On the eve of December fifth, we put out our wooden shoes, shoes or slippers with an apple, carrot, or any tasty bit for the horse of Sinterklaas. [December 5 because that was the day of the original Saint Nicolaas’ birthday.]
Needless to say, during the night of December 5, time seemed to pass slowly. Our little hearts bounced with great expectations. We knew whether we’d been naughty on a few occasions during the year, but hoped the good man had forgiven these small ‘side-steps’.So you see, not much different from Santa Claus, and Christmas Eve, here in North America, except almost 3 weeks’ earlier.
When a young boy I recall a few occasions close to Xmas Day when father came home with a small conifer tree. There’d be white candles placed on the branches, and father always put a bucket of water beside the tree, in case of fire. There were no presents or toys since these had already been given on Sinterklaas Day. Sometimes father would hang apples on the small tree (having selected one with sturdy branches to bear the weight). Then there’d be no candles or any other decoration.
Later I learned from my maternal grandfather this was a tradition practised back in the eleventh century and symbolized the Tree of Paradise. At one time, maybe still somewhere in the world,
December 24 was celebrated as the Feast Day of Adam and Eve.
It wasn’t until 1841 when Queen Victoria’s consort Prince Albert of Germany installed a Christmas tree at Windsor Castle. From there the tradition of trees reached out to rich and poor alike. We all have our unique childhood memories, mine go back to Sinterklaas Day much more than December 25.

[There’s a new field called “psychophysiology”; yesterday we read an article about how for example experiences and memories of joy, or sadness for some, around the holiday season can be mapped in our brains and effect our subsequent frame of mind around Christmastime. For many people the family gathering can be very stressful, especially if they feel forced to “put on a happy face”. You can’t fool your brain though].

I like “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” by Dylan Thomas, especially the recording read by the poet himself. All these traditions based on folklore, mythology and pagan history are just as interwoven, complex (and sometimes confusing), as we humans. And “memories” are made of all this.

Here’s a quote from “The Pickwick Papers” by Charles Dickens, who wrote in 1836, five years before Queen Victoria had her first Christmas tree:
Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childish days; that can recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth; that can transport the sailor and the traveller, thousands of miles away, back to his own friends and his quiet home.”
Signing off for now, Henri


From Bishop Nicholas (Sinterklaas) to Santa Claus

"The Night Before Christmas”, a poem written in 1823 by Clement Clarke Moore, heralded Santa Claus in America. Or so the story goes. But centuries before, (280-342 AD) to be exact, Bishop Nicholas of Smyrna in Turkey brought joy to poor children by strewing gifts and goodies their way on his birthday.

That’s the same Sinterklaas (Flemish) and Sint-Nicolaas (Netherlands) we celebrate on the eve of December 5th (or the morning of the 6th), the birth date of the Bishop. And Saint Nicholas as we call him is patron saint of children.
The pilgrims of Holland brought this tradition to America in the 17th century, also to New York (formerly Nieuw Amsterdam).
From there the Santa Claus morphed into the jolly friendly fellow we know today, continuing to enchant children wherever he goes on his sleigh, the famous sleigh powered by reindeer.
Speaking of which, my favourite Yuletide carol is “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”. It is one of the very few with a deeper message and which few seem to realize.
Nobody cared much for Rudolph. He was a laughing-stock and wasn’t allowed to play with the other reindeer. He was ridiculed, mocked or ignored, until Santa recognized great merit in that glowing nose. (Read: as in recognizing his worth and talent.)
Then of course all the other reindeer loved Rudolph. The message in Rudolph’s song isn’t unlike the story by Hans Christian Andersen of the “Ugly Ducking”, who turned out be a swan.
[Just like we all ‘love’ Vincent van Gogh or other artists, now that they’ve been universally recognized, a century or more after they were living and breathing amongst us.]

Getting back to the song, it was Gene Autry, the legendary “singing cowboy”, who made an evergreen recording in 1949. That’s when I heard it, during one of my transatlantic sailings with Holland America Line to the New World, when I worked as a steward in the first-class dining room.
Then, we also heard Gene Autry singing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” back home on Radio Luxembourg, broadcast station for the U.S. Army in Europe. (That’s where I learned my first English, through Radio Luxembourg.)
Then, there is the Scandinavian tradition (where the word “Yuletide” originates), with its Festival of Light. Yule has its origin from a Scandinavian word (e.g. in Finnish it’s “Joul”) and means ‘feast’.
Also there is the Norse mythology of Thor, the God of Thunder. He would fly through the sky in a sleigh pulled by magical goats. (And in the American song, the seventh reindeer is named “Donder”, which in my native tongue translates as “Thunder”). Pagan traditions, ancient mythologies and history, all mixed up. More to come on the subject. Signing off, Henri


Trying Times, Keep on Trying

What I find truly amazing is the newly-elected government of the Maldives, an archipelago of islands in the Indian Ocean, is seriously considering buying a whole new land for its 380,000 citizens.
Reason – the ocean level is rising by the month, and the atolls of the Maldives are in great danger of becoming submerged. The highest point of land is only 2.4 metres above sea level.
We had the privilege and experience of visiting the Maldives on several occasions by ship. It’s made up of a chain of 1,200 islands and coral atolls about 500 miles from the tip of the Indian continent. The new president, 41-year old Mohamed Nasheed, is a human rights activist who was once imprisoned (a former political prisoner, like Nelson Mandela). He started his tenure in the islands’ capital of Male last week. This is the Maldives’ first democratically-elected president.
According to the report, tourism brings in $1 billion a year, so there is ‘cash’ for this colossal real-estate acquisition in the making. They will create a “sovereign wealth fund”.
President Nasheed, also known as “Anni”, is preparing for a mass exodus. He’s eyeing and enormous tract of land in either Sri Lanka, India or Australia as options to safeguard his people from becoming the first climate change refugees.
“We can do nothing to stop climate change on our own and so we have to buy land elsewhere. It’s an insurance policy for the worst possible outcome
,” he said. “We do not want to leave the Maldives, but we also do not want to be climate refugees living in tents for decades.”
Here we have one of several nations becoming victim of this human-caused problem. Cause and effect. Gratifying to see that at least somewhere, one leader is concerned about his people’s safety and well-being. Signing off for now, Henri


Poinsettia Trees in the Caribbean

We belong to a club here in Victoria. Mostly because of our interest in billiards and snooker.
The club has three professional-quality billiards tables. Snooker requires concentration, awareness, decision-making and mental mathematics, and creates a fellowship amongst other aspects. The aficionados play regularly, not only for the joy of it, but many play to compete in tournaments. (Plus, it’s good exercise, mentally and physically.) Both Single and Double tournaments are held throughout the year.
I am a novice, with a handicap of +25. Recently a friend of ours, a very good billiards player, created a new game called Zen Billiards. Last weekend a visiting club from another city came over for a big annual tournament, Doubles on Saturday and Singles on Sunday. Both tournaments were won by the visiting squad but Victoria put in a fair show. (I was a spectator in the gallery.)
But hold on, we’re getting side-tracked here.
Yesterday when visiting the club, we noticed two sentinels from the Nutcracker Suite standing at the entrance, while indoors more glimpses of the “Ho-ho” season could be found, gnomes sitting atop mantelpieces and other Xmas decor or pixies on shelves. The decorations are elegant, not the usual sort of ‘tinsel’.
No sign of the traditional Big Tree yet, or the neat rows of bright-red poinsettias, stationed neatly on the steps of the main stairwell. Yet, these harbingers signalled loud and clear the Holiday Season is upon us. Following a couple of rounds of snooker, I rested in the spacious reading room, while Natasha did some computer work in the Business Centre. In between resting, slumbering and resting (yes, it’s that kind of Club where in the old days only gentlemen could be found snoozing behind the daily paper, a la “Drone Club” of Wodehouse fame)

I was transported in my reveries back to the Caribbean one year ago. At that time I was guest artist aboard an ocean liner, the QE2.  We’d called on Dominica, a beautiful and lush island. It was December, and while exploring the island, we noticed everywhere tall poinsettia trees, glowing with complementary red and green colours. 

Throughout the Lesser Antilles, in the sweltering heat and humidity, at each port of call shops were overflowing with ‘snowmen’, Santas with reindeers and snowflake decorations on windows and doors. “Have you ever seen snow?”, I asked one of our guides. No, she hadn’t , but she knew all about mistletoe, holly and that famous reindeer with the red nose, Rudolf.
Not only in the Caribbean, but in December throughout Central and South America in tropical regions, Santa rules.
But what is all this “Ho-ho-ho” all about, which gobbles us all up into commercial temptations and deck halls?
How did those three kings, those three wise men, know a Saviour was born? From the stars, we’re told. Yes, there was the star above Bethlehem. And shepherds, who as the story goes, were told by an angel to go 'towards the bright Star shining in the East, for there in Bethlehem in a stable, the Saviour was born.' All well and good for those wise Men, they were star-gazers, ‘studiers’ of the constellations, or astrology. I wonder when people sing their Xmas carols, if they have any idea what it was that led the three kings to the saviour?
And what about the iconic Christmas tree. Do conifers and pine trees grow in the desert lands? Date palms, yes. Cedars of Lebanon, yes. As most people now, our Christmas tree goes back a long way, to pagan and Druid times. The time of the Winter Solstice, the return of the ‘newborn’ Light. Enough said for now. I’ll just go and wonder, wander and ponder some more. Ho-ho-ho! Henri


Micro - Macro Cosmos revealed

At the same time we hear “science is mystified or baffled” about something, or that “science says” our spaceship Ocean Earth is in more and more peril, remarkable discoveries are made by scientists.
Yesterday we learned a team of scientists announced an “unprecedented discovery” of phenomena light-years away: three more planets circling around another Sun have been spotted. Apparently this is the first time images of several planets around a star outside our solar system have been captured.
Meanwhile Hubble keeps peering deeper into space, sending back more and more breathtaking macroscopic images. (I still wonder, “where did all that Space come from, for the whole universe to dance in?)Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, and not wishing to go unnoticed, the microscopic world reveals itself, making headline news as well.

This week Santiago Costantino, a physicist at University of Montreal recreated Vermeer’s “Girl With a Pearl Earring” at 200 microns, about the width of two human hairs.
He arranged the image ‘pixel by pixel’ and aimed a laser through a microscopic lens to arrange molecules in the liquid to form the famous image. Costantino explained the aim of this laser technique is to help medical researchers:
the laser can create intricate protein patterns in the lab that researchers can use to test how nerve cells might be re-grown - the first step toward the long-term goal of repairing spinal cord injuries and other nerve damage”.
This same week we learned in Japan the world’s smallest engagement ring has been created: a diamond 5 billionths of a carat, 300 nanometres thick and 5 micrometres across.
It was made by carving out a circular structure in an artificially- made diamond. It will be used to access single photons, the basis for developing quantum computers. The ring can only be seen with a microscope. (No kidding!) And I thought my father was a genius, when he put 52 facets on a 0.20 point diamond.
Many years ago, on one of our journeys to Mexico, we met a local artist on the beach. His specialty was to carve your name on a grain of rice, which he’d put on a string and you could wear around your neck. He did this without glasses or magnification instruments. This is quite commonly seen today, but in those days it seemed absolutely amazing.
Back in the 1960s, the first images became available to the public of minerals or crystals magnified by an electron microscope. These were vistas never before seen and which carried the viewer into another realm. I used to call them, and still do, images of ‘never-ever land’.
Sometimes the resemblance between the multi-coloured splendour and sparkle of images from space (such as the extraordinary nebulae captured by Hubble we see today), and those from the microscopic world are so similar, it is uncanny, revealing the micro and the macro world are one.

However, what is interesting is that before I personally ever witnessed such images, I was already depicting imagery of a micro/macro nature, but born from intuition and experimentation. (See images of one painting above.) Evidence that the creative mind is a vehicle of the zeitgeist and can function as a harbinger of the future.
Keep on discovering! Henri


Arcobaleno, Arc-en-ciel, Arco-iris, Regnbue, Regenboog, Regenbogen, Rainbow

We live right at the Pacific Ocean and from our window have an unobstructed view of Juan de Fuca Strait, the Olympic range of Washington, and much of Victoria. When a rainbow appears, we can ‘capture’ it, if alert and ready.
This photo was taken by Natasha with her mobile this morning, November 10 at 10h00 Pacific time. The ‘raincircle’ spectrum hat, I acquired in the Canary Islands from a handicapped woman who crocheted it herself.

When teaching art aboard ship, most recently with venerable QE2. Tomorrow, November 11, she sails on her final voyage, heading ‘into the sunset’ in Dubai.
We give a different theme every day, and the passenger-students have to draw mostly on their imagination. At first this can be quite challenging for many people, however even those with the most difficultly to ignite their imagination, ‘take off’ once they see the theme of the day is: rainbow fantasy. (See here an example of one of my students.) In no time, their efforts are transformed into joyous rainbow colours. Maybe for the first time in a long while, they have connected again with their inner child.

Scientists, thinkers and polymaths have tried for a long time to analyze the phenomena of a rainbow. Poets and artists express their feelings and impressions back to the world. Children always find inspiration and joy in depicting this magic “bow” of colours.
It is the rainbow which teaches (long before the advent of art schools) what happens when you mix the three primary colours (Red, Yellow, Blue): you create the secondary colours (Orange, Green, Violet). I wonder how our “Lucy” ancestors must have felt upon first seeing a rainbow. What were they thinking when witnessing this mysterious and magical arch of colours? How did they feel? Joy? Fear? Wonder? Happiness? Did they utter “Wow”, “Ah”, “Oh”, like we do, or better still, take it in with awe and silence? 
Here’s a poem I wrote awhile back.
“Cry O Sun
Smile O Rain
Cry O Rain
Smile O Sun
Only your union
Creates a Rainbow”


"Ah, when we will ever learn . . "

These grey and “early-dark” days of November are once again upon us. All the leaves destined to part from their “tree home” will soon leave bare branches. The conifers - - cypress, pines, junipers, firs and cedars now have more to say and make their presence felt. They tell us without words,
“Look! We’re evergreen.”
No sooner have the yellows, tans, ochres, sienas, reds and umbers of Autumn go, than another Red ‘pops up’ (be it briefly), to be seen on almost everyone’s attire, especially the TV anchor people. Symbol for those soldiers and civilians who gave or lost their lives, so we can all live in ‘freedom’ and ‘peace’. Not only WWI is remembered, but all the wars and killings that followed, to this day, adding ever-more reasons to perpetuate Remembrance Day. [War is called “Regime Change” nowadays.] “Lest We Forget”, all right.
Bob Dylan wrote already in the ‘60s “ . . the answer my friend, is blowin’ in the wind, the answer is blowin’ in the wind” . .. “oh when will they ever learn, oh when will they ever learn?”
What a strange and paradoxical species we are, Homo Sapiens. I saw the bombs drop, and as a boy lived through WWII.
On the one hand we go out to kill and get killed, both for the same cause of Freedom. Soldiers gave their lives so that we can live free. Yet, our freedom is stealthily being taken away; ‘Big Brother’ has crept up, making Orwell’s book “Brave New World” look like amateurish scribble.
You may recall the classic black and white move “All Quiet on the Western Front”, based on a novel of the same name by German writer Erich Maria Remarque, a ‘realistic and harrowing account’ of WWI slaughter in the trenches and fields of Flanders.

We came across these thoughts from someone in England, on the wearing of poppies and remembering, “ . . how much does it serves to console as much as to mask the terrible reality of death in war. By masking, it is meant that remembrance becomes a ritual used to ‘blot out’ the horrible reality of, in this case war, and the First World War in particular. Naturally, the truth is far too disturbing to continually be exposed, so the ritual of remembrance helps to create a more ‘comfortable’ memory of the deceased. This is most noticeable, for example, on Remembrance (Day), when the wearing of an artificial poppy, and the two-minute silence in recognition of those who gave their lives, saves one from having to dwell on the specific details of the deaths of millions of men killed while serving their country.” (From “A Memorial in Scarlet” by Stacy Chambless.)
But why do poppy flowers flourish in battlefields? I learned the first reference to this was made by a writer during Napoleon’s time. He observed certain fields were barren before a battle but exploded with poppies after the fighting ended.
It’s known that in Flanders and France, the chalk soil became very rich in lime from all the rubble, but after the lime became absorbed, the poppies disappeared. Today many Quakers wear white poppies which they say "is not about insulting the dead, but to honour them by working for an end to war”.
Remember Swift's "Gulliver's Travels"? War because of a song the "Littleputs" argued about? We need a few more Gullivers in the world.

Would it not be something to see a film such as “All Quiet on the Western Front” where everything was in reverse? Then you’d have peace instead of war: bullets shot from rifles would come out of the bodies and return into the rifle barrel. The bayonet plunged into flesh reverses and leaves the body. No wound. Advancing commandos go backward. Shrapnel would re-assemble. Bombers raining their deadly cargo would have the bombs flying upwards back into the hold of the aircraft. Hand grenades would boomerang intact back into the hands that threw them. Cannons nicely receive back their lethal cannon balls, all the carnage ‘undone’.
On the topic of shooting, why do we speak of killing a penalty in hockey or soccer (associated football).Can’t we say ‘ride out’ or ‘weather’ or ‘survive’ a penalty? Or we speak of “a nice shot” in pool or billiards. Our words perpetuate our culture’s killing habits.
But, this November has given us hope and a sigh of relief: the end of a great “error” (which added to the deaths of how many more thousands?), and beginning of a new "Era".
Mahatma Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye, Makes the whole world blind.” Signing off, Henri