Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Arctic Explorer John Rae nears Westminster Abbey



A recent flurry of newspaper reports made it official. They appeared in The Scotsman, The Orcadian, The Glasgow Sunday Herald, and The Times (Scottish edition). Arctic explorer John Rae is soon to be recognized in Westminster Abbey.
David Ross, Highland Correspondent for the Herald, produced a quote from the Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverand Dr. John Hall. Following discussions with Alistair Carmichael, who is Secretary of State for Scotland and MP for Orkney and Shetland, Dr. Hall said:
"I have agreed that a memorial should be placed to Dr John Rae of Orkney in the Abbey near that to Sir John Franklin. I plan to dedicate a ledger stone to the Arctic explorer in the Chapels of St John the Evangelist, St Michael and St Andrew to the west of the North Transept on September 30." See for yourselves by clicking here.
Another excellent piece, which appeared in The Orcadian, drew attention to The John Rae Society website, which is conducting a fund-raising compaign.  
Many of you know all this. I highlight it here to put it on the record. The Forces of Darkness (those who, having a vested interest, continue to undermine John Rae) are with us still. As we approach Westminster, we can expect a flurry of denial, distortion, and obfuscation. Nobody familiar with the three books illustrated here -- Fatal Passage, Lady Franklin’s Revenge, and The Arctic Journals of John Rae -- will be surprised. John Rae lives!

Monday, June 16, 2014

James Joyce turns up in Dublin to celebrate Bloomsday


James Joyce is alive and well today in Dublin. He has surfaced in multiple incarnations and numerous places to celebrate the 110th anniversary of Bloomsday. That’s the day -- June 16, 1904 – during which the action of Ulysses unfolds in what Joyce called “dear, dirty Dublin.” Rambling around the city today, everywhere we went, we encountered people tricked out in Edwardian gear, playing characters in the novel – Leopold and Molly Bloom, Stephen Dedalus – but also looking like Joyce himself in middle age, when he wrote his masterpiece. The James Joyce Centre has been celebrating all week, running Joycean walking tours and talks, marking the 100th
 
anniversary (also this year) of the publication of Dubliners, and – would you believe it? – sponsoring a Joycean Literary Pub Crawl. The main photo on the front page of today’s Irish Times features two women participating in an egg-and-spoon race as part of a Bizarre Bloomsday Brunch, and on Page 7 we discover another   page-dominating colour photo from the festivities, this one deriving from a street event mounted by the Here Comes Everybody Players from Boston, Mass. At that point, we’re shading into Finnegans Wake (no apostrophe), which features a Here-Comes-Everybody refrain that is beginning to look prophetic. The Times also reveals that dancer Michael Flatley, the Irish-American star of the original Riverdance, owns the bronze medal won by Joyce in a singing competition in Dublin in 1904. 
An urban myth had him throwing it into the River Liffey in a fit of pique. As we wandered from the James Joyce Centre to Davy Byrne’s Pub, checking out bookstore displays and sundry shenanigans, Sheena Fraser McGoogan snapped photos.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Three reasons why I hate Oslo


For a Torontonian, Oslo is easy to hate. Already, I have several reasons, but I will confine myself to three. Number one is Bygdoy, the “Museum Island of Oslo.” In a previous post, I mentioned the Fram Museum, which houses both the Fram and the Gjoa, two ships that played major roles in the exploration of the Arctic. Yes, here they are, beautifully preserved at Bygdoy, and presented with a vast array of polar-exploration material, including even three of my own books. How large an avalanche are we expected to handle? And today, revisiting Bygdoy, we had to deal with two equally overwhelming experiences: the Viking Ship Museum, which houses three ships salvaged from the 800s (not a misprint),  and the Norwegian Folk Museum, which is like Upper Canada Village or Black Creek Village, but with a far longer history.
Bygdoy alone would make me hate this city. But Oslo offers a welter of corollary reasons. Number two has to be the spectacular waterfront. OK, it can’t quite compare with that of Sydney, which is arguably the most beautiful in the world. But that is mainly because, with a metro-population of 1.5 million, Oslo is considerably smaller. Even so, a Torontonian has to face a transit system that works, and that includes not just buses, LRTs, and subways, but also ferries that transport commuters up and down an eye-popping fjord to towns and communities along the water, always in the never-ending sunshine. And the waterfront itself features a superb promenade lined with high-end restaurants, in which you can sit and watch the passing parade of sailboats and kayaks and cruise ships. For a Torontonian, it’s mortifying.

The third reason I hate Oslo is Edvard Munch. Everybody knows The Scream, his most famous painting, but that is just one of numerous towering works he created. I know this because Oslo has devoted an entire museum to Munch, as well a vast room in the National Gallery. Munch evokes and represents this city’s attitude towards its great artists and writers, which is one of pride and joyful celebration. Any Torontonian, and indeed any Canadian, knows that the appropriate posture is one of indifference and disdain. So there you have it, three good reasons to hate Oslo: the Museum Island, the waterfront, Edvard Munch. If those seem insufficient, we have a couple more days here, and already I see more reasons coming.