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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Snow Days

Check out the foot high snow drift at my front door which had accumulated before noon!
Thank goodness for our helpful neighbours (and their snow blowers).
Well, it really is starting to look a lot like Christmas. The first winter snow storm makes me very nostaglic. I remember the first time I saw the white stuff (at the age of 10 years) in Vancouver on Grouse Mountain. What a joyful discovery. Today, it was like being back on that mountain. Over 20 cm has fallen since Saturday night. This makes for a lovely snowy Sunday. No where to go and nothing really to do. So Mr. Hippo and I turned on the fireplace and read the weekend paper and then watched some NFL and then a few movies. But it wasn't all play, we did venture out to clear the driveway and sidewalk twice (and throw a few snowballs too!).

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Memories of Gozo

It has been about month since I returned from Malta and I finally gotten around to labelling, sorting and organizing my pictures. Even in a digital format, this process is quite time consuming. But with a few days off work during the holiday season, the task is at last at an end.

So what do I recall first of Gozo which is one of the three islands which makes up the nation of Malta. First, the shocking discovery that it is home to some of the oldest Neolithic ruins in the world. The Ggantija Temple is over 5000BC (that's older than the Pyramids of Giza) and some of the coralline limestone used in its construction as large and as heavy as a pick up truck. How these ancient peoples transported and constructed these Neolithic temples is another mystery.

Then in the prisons throughout Malta and Gozo is ths strange and very unique prision graffiti. Gozo was use as a penal colony and many of the settlers were former seafarers. Hence, the unique ship graffiti seen. Each mast on the ship was said to represent a year of imprisonment.

Last but certainly no least is the food of the islands....predominately seafood which is no big surprise. Every kind of fish from lampuki (dolphin fish) to sea bass to swordfish to grouper were consumed on our trip. At Mgarr where the Gozo-Malta ferry docks, we had a splendid dinner of fresh breem grilled to perfection.
Driving in Malta is itself an adventure. Mr. Hippo hadn't driven standard on the left side of the road for nearly a decade. The traffic on Gozo as sedate but on Malta, it was often chock-a-block congestion. It was a good thing that the Fortino Spa Hotel in Sliema was opposite the ferry to Valetta which made sightseeing around Valetta and the Three cities easier.

Back from the land of the Knights

After two weeks away in Malta, I have finally gotten around to getting the Christmas decorations up this weekend. To the tune of Christmas carols, we started with the tree...lights, garlands, ribbons and then the ornaments. Bad luck this year regarding the Christmas lights, three strings were out. Mr. Hippo salvaged a few bulbs but the lights were toast. This of course is just an excuse to buy the newest LED lights which do burn brighter and last longer (as witnessed by the fact that the manufacturers do no provide any spare bulbs). The tree smells great as only a real Christmas tree can. Attracted by the smell and the foliage, the cat has taken to the tree as her new haven.

Next, we proceeded with putting the new blue LED lights on the outside pine tree as well as along the fence of the backyard. A few wreaths on the front, side and backyard doors and some mistletoe over the threshold and voila, the house is dressed for Christmas. I have admit that the sight of the tree does brighten my spirits at this time of the year.

Another Christmas tradition for Mr. Hippo and I is going to hear the reading of an abbreviated version of Charles Dicken's "A Christmas Carol". For the second year, we drove to neighbouring Georgetown to hear an animated reading of the story. The story is told in five parts and each segment ends with the local choir singing a Christmas carol. This year's CBC personality was Julie Dempsey who read the "Ghost of Christmas Past" stave. The highlight was Ms. Vera MacDonald's reading of the "Ghost of Christmas Future". To get into character, she was dressed up as a Victorian lady.

In this coming week, another of the season's tradition, the Christmas party. For this year, I am hosting the staff office Christmas party and it is to be a catered affair. However, I am taking of the alcohol which means getting a few bottles of red wine and brewing some warm mulled wine.
I have managed to write a little about my vacation with Mr. Hippo to Malta which will appear in a few posts as there is much of tell of our travels to the land of the Knights.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween Ba hum bug

Okay so I have to tolerate the fake blood, grave stones, skeletons, and kitchy orange and black decorations but I draw the line at the begging for candy from perfect strangers. I guess I find no meaning in this holiday. So this year for Halloween as I do each year to avoid the hoards of ghouls and globins at my door, I head out to a fine dining establishment. This year as my father and Hippo are away, I took my mother to Lai Tah Ween at the Metropolitan Hotel. What a pleasant surprise...shark fin soup with real crabmeat (delicious!), sea cucumber clams on a bed of mushrooms, fresh bamboo shoots, carrots and sugar snaps and then shredded roast chicken seasoned with rock salt served with jellyfish.

The grimmest of this year was also marked by the sudden and tragic passing of two individuals: my dear Hippo's mother and my brother-in-law's father both in the past week and both had their funerals on the same day on difference sides of the Atlantic. Meanwhile, across the Pacific, my father celebrated his 68th birthday on the exact same day. Aware of these losses, I am sure that he views life as precious. A realization made more acute when death seems to strike so unexpectedly.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A small world without Facebook

Milton may be a growing town but it never ceases to amaze me how small the world really is. I recently had a new prenatal patient who I felt an immediate connection. She too thought that I looked familiar. She had delivered a previous child in the United States so I knew it could not have been a professional association. After a few minutes, I asked if she had gone to Western which she confirmed. Then I asked if she knew Ms. Foodie which she also confirmed. At last I have figured it out (as did she as well) that she rented a room in our (Ms. Foodie and I) three bedroom flat in Ms. Foodie's and her last year of studies at UWO. She had lived for a few years in the New England region before moving back to Canada and of all places, to Milton. I can't even imagine how many more such connections I would make if I ever signed up for Facebook.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Gaudied out

Gaudi's work is everywhere in Barcelona and no visit is complete without visiting at least one of these buildings. As it was Ms. Foodie's first visit, we started small and worked our way up to the enormous spectacle of the Sagrada Familia. First, the lampposts designed in the Plaza Reial, the Hans and Gretal houses and ceramic lizard at Park Guell, the whimsical roof of the Casa Mila and then the grand church itself.

We took the elevator up one of the towers, taking in spectacular sites of giant fruit topped spires before walking down these 257 steps. Both Ms. Foodie and I had to pause on occasion because of some slight vertigo and to enjoy the views from the windows in the towers.

Another memorable moment was the protest by Spaniards and Buddhist monks in Spain against the Juta regime in Burma. We did not learn that this was part of a co-ordinated world wide action organized by Amnesty International until we watched the news that evening.

The roof of the hypo style hall was studded with ceramic sculptures by Gaudi.

Gaudi's playful nature is apparent in these sentries (disguised chimney stacks) on the roof of the Casa Mila or La Pedrera (the quarry). When Gaudi first unveiled this design, some critics described the apartment as a collection of bland stones. Hence, the nickname of "the quarry" was adopted for this building.
One little know fact about Gaudi was his death. Gaudi was local celebrity in Barcelona at the time he was the architect of the Sagrada Familia. He lived and worked in the neighbour close to his beloved structure. On his way to work one day, he was struck by a tram a block away from the Sagrada Familia. He was taken to a hospital where he eventually died. His body lay unrecognized for three days!

After days of eating Spanish food, I had to make a break for an Asian meal in Barcelona. All that oil, heavy sauce, and deep fried foods can make this Asian girl hungry for a bowl of noodles. So it was off to a Japanese restaurant called Udon for a satisfying bowl of beef ramen.

It is good to be home now. Although the road home was started with a little bumpy ride. Ms. Foodie and I were supposed to take a direct train from our hotel to the airport. The train station was just in front of the Park Hotel. It was very fortunate that we decided to take the earlier train for what was suppose to a 30 minute ride took an hour and twenty minutes.

The train was suppose to proceed through 5 stops before reaching the airport, its terminus. After two stops, the train remained idle at the Barcelona Sants station for nearly 10 minutes. No announcements or train officials came by to tell the riders why. Then the lights were turned off and pretty much everyone alighted.

Through our fellow Spanish speaking riders, we learned that we were get on the next train, ride two stops and then alight at that station. Then a third train came along and took us to the airport. The final moment of frustration came when the lights and power temporarily went off on this third train at the moment of departure. Audible signs of relief were heard when the power came back on and when we finally arrived at the airport.
The gate for our plane changed and so the British Airways flight leg to Heathrow was delayed in its departure by 30 minutes. Thankfully, there was a time change and we had 2 hours layover in London. This we hoped would mean our bags stood a better chance of catching up with us. The irony was our flight from London to Toronto arrived 35 minutes early thanks to some powerful tail winds. By the time we cleared customs and picked up our bags (yes they made it on our flight), Mr. Hippo had just arrived at the terminal and we were off and away home by 6pm (the time the flight was suppose to arrive). Whew! Home safe and sound.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Barcelona and Cal Pep

Ms. Foodie and I had a short hour flight from Bilbao to Barcelona. Still tired from our early more departure, we decided to rest in the afternoon and then head off for a stroll in the old Gothic Quarter of Barcelona. We found many small courtyards such as this one. There were a number of cheese, pork and other food stores too. You have to admire a country where the pig is so venerated. Although this photograph recalls a William Holding novel, the love of the pig cannot be underestimated in Spain. From roast pig to Serrano Ham to Chorizo, the pig is everywhere. Perhaps only the chinese have more pork dishes.
That evening, we had easily the best meal in Spain at Cal Pep. We arrived at 9pm (early by Spanish time) and did not get a seat the bar until 10pm. The usual one hour wait is normal at this restaurant (and we were warned about this at many reviews of the place). However, we were served several glasses of white wine and beer while waiting. It also give us an opportunity to observe the dishes being served. This turned out to be valuable as there was no menu. There is one posted outside of the restaurant but none was given when we were seated. Dishes of baby octopus stewed with chicken peas, whole prawns grilled with heads on, calamari, lightly battered and deep fried artichoke hearts, baked white fish, stewed clams, floated by. Our heavenly meal was washed down with house white wine. To complete this culinary experience, I had Calvados and Ms. Foodie has some pistachio ice cream. Drunk, full and happy, we stumbled home which was thankfully less than 300m away.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Bilbao and green space.

After a 1hour flight midmorning flight we arrived in Bilbao. I still marvel that the internal flights of Spain are cheaper than the rail tickets.

Ms. Foodie was a big fan of Gehry's and so we headed off pretty sooner after our arrival to see the big giant twisted piece of metal.
Sadly, most of the museum's exhibits were under renovation at the time of visit and would open in about 2 weeks. Bad planning on our part. However, we did have fun with the existing installations.

I didn't think I would be impressed by Bilbao's Guggenheim. Very big and frankly industrial in nature, what was the fuss about? In fact, it has been 10 years since Frank Gehry's design was made real here on the banks of the Nervion. This controversial structure has been hailed as the first real wonder of the 21st century and vilified as a cheese factory or giant cauliflower.

Love it or hate it, the Guggenheim has transformed Bilbao itself. In its first year of construction, this city of 450 000 citizens was visited by over 700 000 peoples from around the world. I did think the structure ultimately was quite beautiful. It is very different from the rest of the architecture in Bilbao making it quite a spectacle. However, the industrial products involved in the contruction give a nod to Bilbao's past. As a bonus, Sir Norman Foster designed subway (the most modern in the world) has the trains gliding across rails embedded on a green lawn. Very cool!


Who knew that mazapan was so good? Rarely do I enjoy any sweet dessert but the mazapan snacks in Toledo are quite exciting...such that it has reshaped Ms. Foodie's opinion of them.
This photograph is of the remnants of muslim influence in Toledo. Part of the Mezquita de las Tornerias i.e. a modest mosque now part of a house of arts and craft display.
Toledo was once a centre of three cultures. Once because the Jews and Muslims were expelled after the events of the crusade for the latter and by a 1492 decree from Isabella and Ferdinand. However, the city still holds reminders of the influence of both groups as seen by the horseshoe archways of the Synagogue of Santa Marie La Blanca, evidence of classic Almohad architecture.

As Ms. Foodie and I wandered through the wet cobblestone paths of Toledo, we contemplated the demise of this once cosomopolitan city. From the remains of the Mosque (Mesquita) de las Tornerias to the horseshoe arches of the Synagogue de Santa Maria La Blanca, and to the tower of the Church of Santa Tombe, the moorish influence is seen everywhere.
When we returned to Madrid, Ms. Foodie suggested dinner at Casa Minga. Recommended by Frommers, Chow Hound and other foodie website sites, this restaurant had but a few things on the menus: cider, roast chicken and the grilled peppers with tuna. All were quite excellent but as Ms. Foodie rightly pointed out, the cider tasted a bit rustic (or in my words like a barnyard!).

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Old Spain, Segovia

It isn't hard to see how Segovia has been designated a UNESCO world heritage site. Ms. Foodie and I took a local train to this lovely little town in Castille region of Spain. We were greeted by a Roman Aqueduct which was built around the 1st century AD. Rising to about 28m, it is quite a site to behold as one enters the old city itself. The real surprise is the construction of the aqueduct was done with mortar.

Segovia is perched on a hill and the Cathedral of Nuestra Senora de la Ascuncion and of Frutos (no kidding) dominates the city's landscape. We wandered through the old Jewish quarter (which was abandoned when all the Jews were expelled from the city in 1492), Casa Del Sol (slaughter house), town square, several old family houses with their coat of arms emblazoned over the doorway, converted synagogues, medieval city walls and many gates.
Along the way, we did stop for some tasty tapas at Jose Maria bar, a favourite among the Segovians. After the pork mini-sandwiches and pickled sardines with onions (washed down with beer and red wine), it was off to the Alcazar.
The Alcazar of Segovia is believed to be one of the inspirations for Disney's castles. This is what the local tourist board would have you believe. Nevertheless the tall spires do evoke an air of fantasy. Whether Cinderella or Rapuzel inhabited these towers is subject to debate. The central crenallated tower of Juan II is definitely of Moorish influence though.
When we returned to Madrid, our long lost bags had arrived. To celebrate, Ms. Foodie and I went out for more tapas. In this case, the local house wine which was sweet accompanied with sweetbreads (or if you like pancreas fried up). Yum Yum. The Spanish do know how to live. Rising late, eating well and partying late into the night.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Bagless in Madrid

The day in Madrid started with the typical Spanish breakfast. Chocolate and Churros...basically salty fried dough you dip in chocolate. It wasn't even hot chocolate but the pure melted stuff.

This was the fuel we needed for our day's walking exploration of the Spanish capital. Walking through the old city from the El Rastro (old market) where we saw may strange foods including the below photograph of bull's testicles which is considered a delicacy to the Royal Palace. There was the Plaza Mayor (grand old civic centre), multiple churches, and even came along one of the homes of Cervantes too.

After a late lunch (everything is later in Madrid) at two o'clock, Ms. Foodie and I set off to take in some culture at the Prado. Las Meninas was a highlight along side other splendid works of Velasquez. There were plenty of Goyas (hopefully all real ones) and El Greco. For me the real surprise was Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights. The Flemish master must have doing some serious drugs when he painted that work.
After a brief rest at the hotel, and learning that our luggage was at Madrid Airport, we set off for delightful supper at 10pm (everything is later in Madrid) at Restaurant Platero. The host was very gracious and his recommended dessert of vanilla ice cream crusted with a sugar top and then flambe with Grappe was simply to die for. It confirms my opinion that Spain is a truely civilized country with Grappe flambe ice cream for dessert and chocolate and churros for breakfast.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Madrid Day 1

Well it had to happen sometime especially to seasoned travellers like Ms. Foodie and I. Our luggage never made it to Madrid. Actually, we're not sure where it it. After arriving, we waited awhile and when the bags stopped rolling out on the baggage claim belt, we knew we were in trouble.
After filing our lost luggage claim, we decided to embrace the lighter side of things. At least, we wouldn't have to lug the bags through the Metro to our hotel. In addition, this affords us the opportunity for getting an early start on our shopping. With a Zara at every corner and even a Camper store, Madrid should adequate cloth and shoe us.
However, this evening we have decided to obey our other hunger. So it was a late night of Sangria and Seafood Paella in Sol, the heart of Madrid. As we walked back to our hotel at midnight, we were amused by a museum of ham. Cured ham, hooves and all hanging in the windows of a tapas bar.
It will be a day of shopping, going to museums and site-seeing tomorrow as we await the arrival of our luggage.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

That's President Peanuts to you

Well 5 films, 4 hours of sleep, 24 hours later and I'm finally blogging about TIFF this year. What a way to start this year's festival with a mini marathon. The TIFF organizations (or lack there of) is mostly to blame. I doubt they have fully planned for the larger numbers arriving each September. Last year 50 boxes of tickets were processed in advanced sales. This year, nearly 75 boxes were done. All this even before the regular tickets come on sale.

The mini-marathon started with Wayne Wang's double bill of Thousand years of Good Prayers and the Princess of Nebraska. Famous for directing the Joy Luck Club, this director has chosen another film to illustrate the communication (or miscommunication) between the old and new generations. In this story of East meets West, Henry O is particularly well casted in his role as the elderly father coming to America to visit his estranged divorced daughter. The second film was quite forgettable.

The next film was by far the best I have seen this year at TIFF: Vexille. Anime comes to Midnight Madness. High octane chase sequences, sweeping paranoramic scenes of a post apocalyptic Tokyo, and intriguing mysteries in the plot orchestrated to a bone shaking heavy metal soundtrack. The movie audience here was very different from the usual TIFF crowd. Comic book fans and college geeks shrieked with delight at the visual fest before them and long after the closing credits were done.

Then came the most surprising event of TIFF, a conversation with Jimmy Carter and his wife. I came to Canada after his presidency had ended or he likes to say, "his forced retirement". I must confess that I did not know much about his term in office nor his policies. He is often characterized as the gentleman peanut farmer from Plains, Georgia.
However, after seeing Johnathan Demme's documentary, Man from Plains and after listening to the hour long interview at Ryerson's theatre, a new picture has emerged from of this (oldest) ex-president. He and his wife both profess to having lots of unfinished business after the end of his presidency. In the years since, he has worked for Habitat for Humanity, founded the Carter Centre (which serves to address treating neglected diseases, working for peace and building hope) and won the Nobel Prize. His passion for this activism was inspiring.
The documentary was not as thrilling as the interview. Covering the days of his book tour for the controversially named Palestine: Peace not Apartheid, it chronicles his mounting disappointment and bewilderment at being labelled a liar, bigot and an anti-semite. In an age where politicians are all about image and media spin, President Carter's strength has always been that he had no such fascade. And in this film, his decency, courage and honesty all shine through inspite of all the efforts to discredit him. The man from Plains remains one of the true and real people.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Another old school family portrait

So it has been a busy end of the summer weekend. My mother's youngest brother and his wife arrived for a few days after spending a week on a cruise in Alaska. After spending many conversations reminiscing on their family's past, I finally remembered these old family pictures taken during the time of a younger Singapore.

Heroes in Town

Definitely my favourite new TV show of last year was Heroes. So when I heard that part of the crew were coming to TO to promote the launch of the Season one DVD, I thought I would head down with Ms. Darcy to check out the scene. Okay so my favourite characters Hiro, Peter and Mohinder weren't in attendance but that didn't dampen the sunny smiles of Ando, Micah, Maya and Sylar (oooo that villian you so love to hate).

Zachary Quinto, aka Sylar, is to play Mr. Spock in the new series Star Trek movie.
Ms. Darcy and I first dropped off the application forms for our TIFF tickets then check out the scene at Yonge and Dundas square before heading down to Kii to meet her husband for a lovely 2.5 hour Japanese lunch. The highlight of the meal was the maple marinade Albacore Tuna with wasabi creme fraiche followed closely by the Toro tower. Just a simply splendid way to spend an afternoon.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Time to retire

It is a little know fact that physicians fail to recognize the signs that they should retire or at least get out of acute care medicine. They cling onto their jobs like leeches. Blame it on an identity crisis. Can you live without the "doctor" title? Some feel that one else can do their job (in the exact manner that they do). Regardless, it is dangerous occupation hazard. See if you can recognize the signs in this real life phone conversation:

"Hello, is this Dr. A?"
"Yes, this is Dr. A. Hello Dr. B."

"I have this patient here in the emerg who came in because she thought she was pregnant?"
"Yes, I see."

"Her last period was 4 weeks ago and she started having some bleeding today. She was worried and came into the emerg."
"What did her pregnant test show?"

"Oh, her serum bHCG (blood test for pregnancy) was negative."
"And how often does she have her periods?"

"About once a month and she has regular periods."
"I see...four weeks ago, eh?"


"So Dr. A, what should I do?
"Don't you think she might be starting her period?


"Good night Dr. A."
"Good night Dr. B."

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Don't Dream it's over

When last I hear this song, it was during Crowded House's Farewell to the World Tour. It was 1996 and they were hosting their last show at Sydney Opera House. The song was a dare to the world. Was this to be the last of Crowded. As the decade passed, a reunion seemed unlikely. This was made more improbable but the suicide of Paul Hester, their first drummer in 2005.
But last night, the remaining band members reunited with the addition of a new drummer Matt Sherrod, and took to the stage at Massey Hall, that hallowed Toronto Musical Hall. This part of a new tour in support of a new album. With a combination of new songs along old standards, they weaved their unique brand of pop music. Liam Finn, one of Neil's son provided an opening act as well as backup vocals.
The audience even got to participate with a few sing-a-longs for Fall at your Feet, Don't Dream it's over and Better be Home soon. I must confess that I had only listened to their new album, Time on Earth, just twice. However, the songs themselves seem to fit right along side the classics confirming once more Neil Finn's reputation as one of pop music's best songwriters. His voice were certainly in fine form last night. I certainly hope it won't be another decade before I see them perform again.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

6am Mass Ascension

I rarely rise before 9am on a weekend day but for this one exception and at the great persuasion of Mr. Hippo, I managed to rise at 4am. The occasion was the Hot Air Balloon Festival at Harris Park in London. The morning air was cool and the sky clear as the dawn broke. A perfect blue canvas for the balloonists to paint upon with their astounding inflatable giants. I looked up with the wonder of a child as the mass ascension of nearly 30 hot air balloons took place over the span of an hour.
There was a concurrent Ribfest which Mr. Hippo and I enjoyed as a bonus as well as visiting a friend of mine from residency who was now doing her fellowship in London. She had just had her second child, a boy and was settling into motherhood again. An outsider to London medical society, she was still able to fill me in on the gossip of the department of which there was much (too much?). Mr. Hippo commented that the tales of the department could rival any Grey's Anatomy Plot. Now is that art imitating life or life imitating art?