Friday, December 31, 2010

Mexicans celebrate

                   FROM ANNE GORDON

Dublin's Sweet Molly Malone - 'The Dish with the Fish'


“In Dublin's fair city, where girls are so pretty

I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone,

She wheeled a wheelbarrow, through streets broad and narrow

Crying cockles and mussels al-live, a-live oh.”

To visit Dublin and not see its statues would be for more than one reason, a regrettable mistake. The Irish in their inimitable witty and irreverent way have given nicknames to just about every statue and memorial in the city.

Replacing O'Connell Street's 'Nelson's Pillar' that was blown up by the IRA in 1966, is a tall needle-like structure that attracts huge attention. Waxing lyrical as only an Irishman can, its epithets include 'The Spike', 'The Stiletto in the Ghetto', 'The Stiffey at the Liffey', 'The Erection in the Intersection', 'The Nail in the Pale' and the 'Binge Syringe'.

A jaunty James Joyce wielding a cane as he stands cross-legged on a plinth in Dublin is a well-known Irish writer.  His statue on North Earl Street, is known as 'The Prick with a Stick'.

On Grafton Street visitors can make the aquaintance of Molly Malone, a comely young fishmonger whose story is told in Dublin's famous anthem of the same name. Molly, like the 'The Spire of Dublin', enjoys a litany of appelations: the 'Tart with the Cart', the 'Trollop with the Scallops', 'Flirt in the Skirt', the 'Dish with the Fish' and the 'Dolly with the Trolley'.

Queen Victoria's statue that now stands in pride of place outside the Queen Victoria Building in Sydney, Australia, was named 'Auld Bitch' by none other than James Joyce who now has his own nickname as mentioned earlier.

When crossing Dublin's famous Ha'penny Bridge, there is a statue of two women chatting with their shopping at their feet. They're known as the 'Hags with the Bags'.

Photo copyright Anne Gordon

Posted by Anne Gordon on Friday, 31st December, 2010

Thursday, December 30, 2010

One of a cluster of Remarkable Rocks on Kangaroo Island

One of the major attractions in Flinder’s National Park on Kangaroo Island off the coast of Australia are the  “Remarkable Rocks". 

 These massive granite boulders sculpted over millennia by wind and weather are balanced on a smooth 75 metre high rocky cliff that plunges straight to the sea.

An Aboriginal legend 
A local story relates how 3000 years ago the entire Aboriginal population of the island committed mass suicide from these same rocks.  Because of this event and others of a spiritual nature, mainland Aborigines call Kangaroo Island  ‘Karta, Land of the Dead’.  Under no condition will they venture anywhere near it.

There is abundant wildlife to see in this area including kangaroos, koalas, seals at Seal Bay and Cape Barren Geese.

Photos copyright Anne Gordon

Posted by Anne Gordon on Thursday, 30th December, 2010

Monday, December 27, 2010

Quebec's Ice Hotel


Canada's Ice Hotel just seven minutes from downtown Quebec city, looms like an exotic igloo in a world of snow and ice.

Proving to be a popular venue on Quebec's tourist circuit in Canada, North America's only ice hotel, open for business from January 7th to March 27th, ensures a winter experience unlike any other. Since its inception in 2001, over half a million visitors have marvelled at a structure built of 15,000 tons of snow and 500 tons of ice.  Each year the hotel is re-built, each year the decor is different.

Quebec's palace of ice
Powdered with snowflakes drifting from a sky that melds absolutely with a pristine earth, it is like another world. Inside, sculpted ice pillars give it the appearance of a palace for a snow queen. Artworks abound: ice sculptures, intricate ice carvings on the walls, ornate alcoves and a massive ice chandelier that changes colour continuously.

At the ABSOLUT Ice Bar, guests clad in furs, ski jackets, toques, gloves, boots and thick socks, puff clouds of vapor each time they speak. Vodka served in ice glasses is the drink of choice, but for a unique Absolut experience order a 'Sensual Confusion' (Absolut vanilla, orange juice and grenadine) or an 'Earth Juice' (Absolut lemon, curacao and lime juice).

Sadly for light-fingered wayfarers though, absconding with a souvenir glass will bring but brief pleasure. The slightest rise in temperature, and the souvenir, like a face of wax in front of a warming fire, is soon just a puddle.

Canada's ice hotel for a most unusual "I do"
There is a thriving business here for unusual marriage ceremonies in a chapel with low, skin -covered ice pews. A stained glass window in a stark white setting is a foil for a transparent ice altar set back in an arched alcove. When the chill becomes excessive, the marriage officer has been known to wear a fur musquash hat.

The dragon bed in the Ice Hotel's Chinese suite
Along frosty passageways with subdued lighting, doors lead into bedrooms where everything including the beds are ice – some elaborately ornate. My favourite when I visited was the Chinese suite where a double bed rested in the icy coils of a dragon. A creature of fire, the dragon's head reared above plumped pillows with its fire-blowing mouth belching forth icy flames into a hole in the ceiling.

Prior to a night in this wintry B&B, a romantic soak in the hot tub under a starry Quebec sky (or maybe a gentle snowfall) does act as a warm-up. From there guests are advised to strip down to the barest minimum, envelop themselves in a giant shawl and wriggle into a sub-arctic sleeping bag. Trussed like mummies in the tombs of ancient Egypt, hardy visitors then settle for the night on beds of ice, covered with animal skins.

With such an elaborate getting-ready-for-bed ritual it would be foolhardy to drink anything for at least a couple of hours before retiring (and this may be difficult if you have spent the evening at the bar). Exiting your cosy cocoon, then having to dress completely for a visit to the 'facilities' (not ice), is certain to intrude rudely upon your sleep.

Those less adventurous will be pleased to hear that a room at the nearby Four Points by Sheraton is part of the Ice Hotel deal. Guests have the option of enduring the 4 am chill to reach a conventional bed in the Sheraton.

Photos copyright Anne Gordon

Posted by Anne Gordon on Monday, 27th December, 2010


In a world of drifting snow I was greeted by a noisy mix of Malamutes and Huskies at a sled site outside of Quebec city.  Already in harness, the excited dogs awaited 'wannabe' mushers and sledders.

Before boarding my flimsy transport I was drawn to the pen housing progeny of the trained working dogs. The puppies were fat roly-poly bundles of creamy fur . Wriggling with delight,  they licked and nuzzled at any face that came within tongue's reach.

Given basic instruction by a guide at Aventure Inukshuk on how to handle the sled, our tour group were then warned that if the musher for any reason abandoned the sled, nothing would stop the dogs.

The guide, it seemed, delighted most in instructing his apprehensive first-timers on how to vacate the sled should the musher fall from his or her post and leave us – the out of control sled riders - to the energetic machinations of six trained-to-pull Huskies!!

Ready to go, my travel companion Melissa acting as musher stood with one foot on the skate the other on the brake. I was ensconced on a damp black cushion and covered waist to toe with a gray blanket dappled with fast melting snowflakes. All about me ice crystals danced in the air and the excited dogs yelped, barked and keened.

The head musher and leader balanced on the back of his sled, raised his arm alerting us to take-off,  then suddenly he surged forward. Following behind, each sled in turn shot like an arrow from a bow and we slipped with effortless speed onto the narrow trail, into the still white forest.

Snow-laden fir branches, drooping like weary dancers, brushed against us as we rushed by. Feathery snowflakes, as if from a burst pillow, drifted down and settled on my face. The trail ahead twisted and turned, a sleek icy ribbon through an avenue of conifers.

Most of the dogs quietened, although our back pair, especially the female, was vocal still. Her bark was high, penetrating, bordering on hysteria. Maybe her role was that of a 'cheerleader', in a canine way encouraging the others to further exert themselves.

Each of our six dogs it seemed, had their own distinctive style. The first two, the leaders, were excited. When we stopped for a moment the dog on the right somehow managed to maneuver himself, in spite of being harnessed, onto the far side of the left dog. He lifted his leg and did a quick pee on the snow bank, trailing a steaming shaky golden dribble for a meter or so.

The middle two seemed the more sensible of the team. Heads bowed, bodies tense, they were ready to go when signaled, and they ran straight and true.

The back two, the strongest, and to my eyes the most comical had very definite traits. “Right” had a heavy rear end and his run bordered on a waddle. “Left's hind quarters tended towards the snow bank while her head kept towards the middle. She ran a crab-like course, moving forward with determined vigor but in a slight sideways motion. Yelping hysterically she became particularly vociferous when we stopped. Then, with an appetite for snow that would freeze a human's innards, she gulped mouthfuls as if it were some delicious doggy treat.

The males in the different teams were involved in intermittent confrontations. Like their testosterone-laden human counterparts they seemed ever-ready for a skirmish.

Each time we paused at least one of the dogs rolled over in a mound of snow, legs extended skyward, heavily furred back squirming vigorously in a canine version of 'snow angels'. This was their world – below freezing temperatures, snow and ice, running and pulling. .

As we raced through the forest the sled in front of ours slid sideways into a slow collapse. The passenger tumbled from the lopsided seat. For a moment the acting musher took her foot from the brake and the team bounded away with the abandoned pair in hot pursuit.

Our four mile adventure ended all too soon. The memory of that still white forest, the hiss of the sled's skates on packed snow and the impatient yodeling of Huskies – these sounds will forever remind me of Quebec and the pleasures of a Canadian winter.

Photos copyright Anne Gordon

Posted by Anne Gordon on Monday, 27th December, 2010

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Our group ready to descend into the Bultfontein Diamond Mine in Kimberley


It was in the Bultfontein Mine with a group of others, that I made a jaw-dropping descent for 3 ½ minutes into absolute darkness.  We were entombed in a small Otis elevator like so many sardines in a can.

Our transport rattled alarmingly as we dropped to the 825 metre level. Equipped with a lamp, dressed in blue overalls, and wearing a white helmet, I had a Cesar Hoya (“Help me to breath”) contraption strapped to my waist. The Cesar Hoya was guaranteed to give me 45 minutes of oxygen should I need it!

As rock rushed past us and we plummeted deep into the earth, my imagination kicked into high gear at the thought of getting ever closer to a sea of molten lava.

Exiting the elevator, we made our way along rock tunnels guided by a red line. It is easy to lose one's sense of direction underground we were told. As we walked, the massive boom of explosions echoed through the caves. The air seemed heavier and much hotter as we moved further into the mine.

A 'Refuge Chamber' where people could come for food supplies, first aid and fresh air should there be a collapse loomed up beside us. Need I say I was pleased to see it.  Up to 50 miners could survive for up to a week in this chamber with its separate air system. My fast beating heart slowed somewhat when I heard that it had yet to be used.

When we reached the rockface where mining was underway, a film of dust blanketed everything, wire netting was nailed overhead to close off caverns containing the diamond bearing kimberlite pipes. I was sweating in my overalls and on looking up into the darkness from our eerily lit cave, I saw a man standing high above us watching. Why was he there I wondered.  Why was he watching.  It was creepy.

This is a tough if profitable industry. It takes 10 ½ tons of rock to yield only a handful of diamonds and these would sell for between $1,000 a carat to $100,000 a carat, depending on the quality of the gem. In this same mine, the largest diamond ever found – a 616 carat yellow diamond – was discovered by a native miner. For his discovery he received the maximum reward of $10,000 and a home for his family.

South Africa is still the top producer of quality diamonds in the world and De Beers has absolute control of the world's diamond marketing. Australia's Argyle Mine is the largest producer of diamonds, but 98% of their diamonds are industrial stones.

While listening to the tour guide's story about South Africa's diamonds - as fascinating as it was - I decided that this would be my last ever descent into a mine.  And then suddenly, in this intimidating, foreign environment, where to be quite honest I felt an oppressive fear, I heard the melodious tones of an African miner singing.  Deep in the bowels of the earth his beautiful voice echoing along rock passages, imprinted on my mind an experiences that not only soothed me at that moment, but will live with me forever.

Photos copyright Anne Gordon

Posted by Anne Gordon on Sunday, 26th December, 2010
Kimberley's Big Hole Diamond Mine


If you travel to Kimberley you can't help but see The Big Hole. It is a great black pit that cuts through the rocky diamond-studded mantle of Africa. The Big Hole at 215 metres deep is the largest man made hole in existence.

The first diamond discovered in South Africa in 1869 was found in the walls of a farmhouse in nearby Bultfontein. Needless to say the house soon bit the dust and the diamond rush was on. Just over a year later, diamonds were discovered in what is now Kimberley and the excavation of the Big Hole was underway.

A representation of all the diamonds mined from the Big Hole during its lifetime
 At times there were 30,000 men working in the Kimberley Mine, each with a small staked out claim linked to the surface by a spider web of cables and ropes. As the hole got deeper the conditions became more chaotic. It seemed that there was a limitless supply of diamonds. Affluent diamond-diggers in a flamboyant display of wealth lit their cigars with bank notes and their lady friends bathed in champagne and enjoyed the pleasures of wealth. Today travel to Kimberley is an experience in historical and mineral exploration combined.

Photos copyright Anne Gordon

Posted by Anne Gordon on Sunday, 26th December, 2010

Ancient Bushman Paintings in Zimbabwe


These fantastic Bushmen paintings that I discovered in Zimbabwe may very well date back over 1,000 years. There are some rock paintings estimated by carbon dating to be more than 25,000 years old, a figure which I find incredible.

This is the work of San bushmen probably migrating south under pressure of the Khoikhoi bushmen following close behind with their long-horned cattle. This latter group with their long-horned cattle were called Hottentots.

A fantastic find - Bushmen paintings hidden for centuries
The pictures depicted are a small part of a wide stone “screen” perhaps 30 feet (9 meters) long to a height of 4 ½ feet (1.3 meters). It was an excellent place for these accomplishments. They are sheltered from the sun, the rain and generally everything.

The enormous parent rock lay upon the earth, in shape like a weather-worn brick running east/west. It was liberally pocked by the elements; rain, sun, lightning and wind, frost and great heat for 10,0000 years and more; lichen, rust and grey/green encrusted patches on the exposed surface.

The so-called screen was the result of a freak of nature. An enormous block of granite rock had simply parted from the parental section about half way down and along the full length, leaving a clean smooth soffit that extended four feet (1.2 meters) to the paintings. The piece that had split and dropped was probably the same distance down so forming a perfect platform from which to execute the art work.

Surrounding this wonderful natural studio was a thin woodland of trees of which the co-dominant genera were brachystegia and Isoberlinia. The face on which the paintings were done appeared to be relatively fresh but probably some thousands of years old. This site could well stand for thousands of years – if people don't destroy it with hammer and chisel.

The  San people of Africa
The San are hunter/gatherer people of short stature. The men on average grow to be 5 ft. 3” in height. As I knew them, some were almost naked and others had aquired tattered European clothing. The children were always naked, and all wore ornaments made from skin and hand-made beads of seeds and bone and ostrich shell.

The women in particular had a large deposit of fat in the buttock region – a provision designed to offset lean times. There is among the San a division of labour and the most notable is that men are the hunters while the women, with their grubbing sticks, dig out edible tubers and bulbs, collect fruit and berries and tote their children along wherever they go. With bows and arrows the men go out into the semi-desert areas to hunt animals, even to the size of giraffe. The kill is not caused by deep arrow penetration, but by relatively shallow piercing of the animal's skin and the introduction of a deadly poison from grubs dug from beneath the soil found near certain Commiphera trees. This is applied to the sinew that binds the arrowhead to the shaft. Expert stalking is needed to get close to the proposed victim.

Details of the painting shown
There is much to be seen in the picture, an ambitious array of people, animals and objects. Using the tiny stout bushman figure directly in front of a large Sable antelope as a radial centre, one sees this figure racing towards the antelope with its fancy striped face and backward curving horns. Its lower hindlegs appear to be hidden by the big Kudu antelope still further to the right. Directly above the antelope's head can be seen the figure of a man striding vigorously with a bag slung from his right arm. Halfway from the centre figure towards the top, one sees a warthog and then higher up at the very top is what may be an Impala doe. Particularly enigmatic is the picture between 6 and 9 o'clock. The woman seems to be toting a child. The man carries his bow and arrows and a bundle, suggesting to me that the couple are moving home with their scant possessions. Behind the couple is a long cylindrical object that is probably a tunnel, dug assuredly by an antbear or aardvark clearly visible towards the wide circled end. Halfway along the tunnel, possibly a much earlier picture, is a lion on his haunches facing towards the observer. One needs to look very carefully to see this (I tremble). Beside the lion I discern with difficulty and imagination an object like a cage or big trap. Perhaps on second thoughts this represents stakes pushed into and across the tunnel to trap the antbear. A man crawls down the tunnel on his belly, and further up is another man on hands and knees crawling up. Such tunnels are occasionally used by the true honey bee to build a hive. Smaller tunnels provide shelter for the hive of the distinctive and minute stingless bee, called in the Matabele lingo “gongonchani”. The stingless bees hive is a conglomeration of small pea-like orbs containing an amber honey with a distinctive slightly herbal tast. There are many varieties of stingless bees. They can be maddeningly irritating when they enter by the score ,every exposed origice on one's head in search of moisture.

Near the bottom of the Bushman painting one can see a prone figure with arms stretched towards a bundle. Most peculiar.

One other particularly complex group is very interesting but obscure, and these are two large entities at 9 o' clock.

Post by guest blogger, James Gordon

Photo copyright James Gordon

Posted by Anne Gordon on Sunday, 26th December, 2010

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Restaurant Aux Anciens Canadiens, Quebec

         FROM ANNE GORDON        

Mennonite woman selling fruit juice at St. Jacobs Christmas Market


As the festive season rolls in with snow laden skies and the gentle drifting of snow flakes on a crisp winter’s morning, the muffled clip clop of horses hoofs on powder heralds the arrival of the Old Order Mennonites at St. Jacobs Christmas market in Ontario, Canada.

A black buggy, the first in a retinue of buggies drawn by sprightly hi-stepping horses, is the traditional conveyance for black-bonneted Mennonite women, their husbands and children. On their way to the market no-nonsense parents sit upfront, and small girls, arrayed like flowers in a row, sit demurely in the buggy’s sparse interior.

For those unfamiliar with a religious order that has lived and farmed for centuries in Canada’s Waterloo County, their arrival appears as a clip from an old time movie.

Laden with freshly baked bread, cookies, pies, apple butter and sweet maple syrup, Mennonite wives move briskly to their individual booths. Their succulent wares are five star items at the Christmas market.

Horses are securely tethered to hitching posts. Children; mischievous boys and blonde girls with neat braids, are hustled into the warm confines of the great market barn. Before long, home made treats: pickled eggs, pickled cauliflower and pickled garlic in a glorious colorful assortment are stacked neatly in a wall of gleaming bottles. The ladies are ready to sell.

Images copyright Anne Gordon

Posted by Anne Gordon on Thursday, 23rd December, 2010

Michael Gordon arrives to shop at St. Jacobs Christmas Market


Summer sausage at St. Jacobs
In spite of the strong Mennonite presence at the St. Jacobs market this is not exclusively a Mennonite event. Local farmers and market vendors from far and wide gather here throughout the year to sell what is reputed to be the most scrumptious produce, the tastiest summer sausage and the finest melt-in-your-mouth cookies this side of the Niagara river. Here in a barn that hums with Christmas activity, urban shoppers from Toronto and surrounding towns mingle with country folk in a heady atmosphere of Christmas bustle.

On the periphery of the market barn, the more hardy vendors have set up al fresco stalls. Out here where a fresh wind whips roses into the cheeks of outdoor vendors, the festive season is not yet evident.

Marcello Didiano, an Italian fruit seller, has the right idea. A rollicking hubbub of foot-stomping Italian folk music blares from a van parked on the edge of his tiny selling space.

The irrepressible Marcello keeps time to his music – probably in an effort to ward off freezing temperatures - by dancing up and down and waving his arms. Marcello’s neighbor who is selling honey is equally lively. Close-by, a sweet-faced Mennonite woman muffled up in coat and black bonnet, stacks courgettes and spreads new potatoes on a frost-rimmed tray. She smiles politely, but refuses my request for a photo.

Roses for sale
Today, on the cusp of a Canadian winter, both shoppers and vendors are clad in padded coats with fur-lined hoods, bright scarves wrapped around lower face and neck, woolly toques pulled low over forehead and ears. Gloves and fur-lined boots protect extremities. As thousands of shoppers trudge in from the cold, they come face to face with two hundred and fifty vendors.

There is no place quite like St. Jacobs Market. For foodies it’s paradise. For vendors, their booths crammed with delicacies, its a welcome addition to the Christmas purse.

I’m a pushover for cookies, and ‘Gracies Christmas Cookies’ smell, look, and taste delectable. A notice propped up on a tray filled with ‘temptation’, alerts me to the fact that Gracie is not providing samples that day.

Gracie's Yummy Cookies
But Eileen Martin, one of Gracie’s charming Mennonite cookie sellers, agrees to answer some of my questions about life as a Mennonite woman. Spoiled as we are, we often don’t realize that there are communities that reject modern technology. Mennonites generally don’t have electricity in their homes – no washing machines, no electric stoves or fridges, no hair dryers and … no computers! Old Order Mennonites don’t have cars, but some branches of the faith allow car ownership, as long as the car is black with an absence of chrome or ornamentation.

Leaving Eileen with customers clamoring for her attention, I head for “The Fritter Company”. The line-up for steaming hot apple fritters stretches forever.

Cheeses of every variety are on sale at ‘The Little Cheese Company’ booth. Their specialities include Goat Milk Cheddar, Goat Milk Cranberry cheese, Goat Milk Herb and Garlic cheese and a spicy Goat Milk Jalepeno cheese. For the peckish, schnitzel on a bun is a popular midday snack. Darlene Dunn wearing a perky Santa hat wanders among shoppers, stopping intermittently to hand out samples of pork schnitzel on a toothpick. We chatted awhile as I sampled liberally her pork schnitzel handouts.

Even canines are catered to in this festive season. Massive bones – guaranteed to keep a cantankerous hound happy for days - are arrayed in a macabre display on a meat counter. The bones are going for $10 apiece.

For a bird’s eye view, I visit the upper echelons of the barn where retailers of every description do a brisk trade. There are jewelery sellers, crafts of every description including unusual Christmas tree decorations, a stall with sheepskin hats, “sheep skin, not cheap skin” as their advertisement implies, and a hat stand selling ‘hats with bling’. Nearby one can browse for undiscovered treasures in a flea market, or shop for high-end furniture made by Mennonite craftsmen at ‘St. Jacobs Furnishings’. There is something for everyone.

Mugs for sale at Full of Beans coffee bar
When too tired to walk another step, you can either visit the ‘Full of Beans’ coffee bar, or sit on a rough-hewn bench at a long table with dozens of other diners and enjoy a meal from the flavorful ‘Sausage Express’. Failing that, venture out on an old-fashioned horse drawn wagon tour where children are invited to participate in a Santa scavenger hunt along the way.

Each December, as vendors, Mennonite and modern, work side by side in the warmth and sumptuous fragrance of St. Jacobs Christmas market, one can’t help but be immersed in a joyous mingling of Christmases past and Christmas present.

Images copyright Anne Gordon

Posted by Anne Gordon on Thursday, 23rd December, 2010

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Kigusiutnak's dogs


In the midst of the canine clamour of close to 150 dogs, Philip Kigusiutnak, a 72- year-old elder from Nunavut, sits immobile on top of his laden sled awaiting the start of the Hudson Bay Quest race. Close-by his dog team crowd together, strangely silent as they looked on at the madness surrounding them.

Philip Kigusiutnak, Inuit Elder
Like the horse whisperer of movie fame, Kigusiutnak has a mysterious technique for managing these notoriously excitable dogs. With a limited English vocabulary, Kigusiutnak manages a forceful “NO” when asked by a fellow musher to teach him the secrets of Inuit dog whispering.

In contrast with Kigusiutnak’s quiet demeanor, Ed Obrecht, a musher from Quebec, has a vastly different disciplinary style. His voice carries clear across the assembly ground. To my uninitiated eye his dog team - crazy with excitement - seems out of control.

. “Don’t touch the rope”, he yells at his dogs, his prose sprinkled with expletives. “Don’t chew the harness. Is that too complicated for you?”

Weaving my way between parka-clad onlookers, I call out “Are they scared of you?”

“No”, he bellows. “Do they look scared of me?” And who are you? I only pose for Vogue”, and he bursts out laughing.

Just minutes later I turn my camera on him, and Mustang, his lead dog, is planting a wet kiss on Obrecht’s face.

“And whose the boss around here” I ask.

“Mustang, he’s my number one man”, says a proud Obrecht.

Miriam Koerner, only woman in the race
Amidst barking, yapping and yodeling dogs, Miriam Koerner, originally from Recklinghausen in Germany, is the only woman in the race.  Sitting on her komatik (an Inuit sled) she pulls on a pair of embroidered felt inner boots.  Padded to twice her normal size, once attired, this delicate slip of a woman emerges as a powerful figure in  traditional Inuit clothing.

Tours: Frontiers North Adventures, Winnipeg 800-663-9832, 

Photos copyright Anne Gordon

Posted by Anne Gordon on Sunday, 19th December, 2010.

The Northern Lights, Churchill, Manitoba


With Churchill situated on the edge of what’s known as the Auroral Oval, a grandstand view of the Aurora Borealis is ensured. Named for the Roman Goddess of Dawn and the Roman God of the north wind, the Northern Lights are a phenomenon of the northern polar region; its mystical rainbow of colours, caused by solar particles impacting the earth’s upper atmosphere, stretches for thousands of miles across the night sky.

From above, astronauts on space missions have an uncanny view of their brilliance. Like a luminous halo, the lights hover up to 2,000 miles above the earth’s magnetic poles.

Throughout centuries the northern lights have inspired wonder and often fear in native people.  As with most mystical happenings, legends abound.  The Point Barrow Eskimos were so intimidated by the weird appearance and disappearance of the lights that they thought of them as evil.  Labrador Eskimos believe that the lights originate with torches used for guiding the dead to the Spirit World.  Others have called the phenomenon ‘an omen of war’.  Some say it is the dance of human or animal spirits.  And yet others – the Mandan native people of North Dakota – say the lights are from the fires of medicine men boiling their enemies in pots.  The Lakota Sioux have a more gentle explanation. The dancing lights, they say, are children of the future playing in the sky as they wait to be born.

Tours: Frontiers North Adventures, Winnipeg 800-663-9832,

Photo copyright Frontiers North Adventures

Posted by Anne Gordon on Sunday, 19th December, 2010

Saturday, December 18, 2010


PENSACOLA – Starting in January, The National Aviation Museum hosts numerous special events and exhibits to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of naval aviation. With more then 150 vintage aircrafts and weekly flyovers by the world-famous Blue Angles, this museum is one of the largest air and space museums in the world.

AMELIA ISLAND (near Jacksonville) – Beginning on Feb. 24 the newly created Amelia Island Film Festival will celebrate three days of local and regional filmmakers in venues throughout historic downtown Fernandina Beach. The program provides an excellent atmosphere for festival goers to meet and greet with film makers, writers, artists, songwriters and more.

TAMPA – Calling all chocolate lovers. The Museum of Science and Industry will be hosting The Festival of Chocolate from Jan. 15-17. Enjoy Florida’s only all-chocolate themed festival by sampling different types of the sweet treat, while experiencing interactive events that showcase the science, history, fun and romance associated with one of our favorite candies.

FORT MYERS – This winter, experience the Radio City Christmas Spectacular featuring the world-famous Rockettes in a glittering, grand performance in Southwest Florida. Take a magical trip to the North Pole during this exciting and memorable performance until Nov. 28.

MIAMI – Visitors and residents alike can commemorate the opening of the ArtSoBay Exhibit during the 2011 SoBay Festival of the Arts. The two week long series of events begin on Feb. 4, and celebrates the literary, performing and visual arts that have inspired the culture of South Florida. The festival concludes with a concert featuring Victor Espinola, a multi-instrumentalist and singer.

Exhibits & Shows
TAMPA – Coming to the Museum of Science and Industry this February is the premiere of their new spring exhibit, Harry’s Big Adventure: My Bug World, sponsored by Terminix. This exhibit offers guests a chance to get up close and personal with insects from all over the world!

PLANT CITY (Near Lakeland) - Dinosaur World welcomes the arrival of the new baby dinosaurs exhibit including the Maiasaurs, Torosaurs and Igunadons species. The grouping of dinosaurs in their herds is an important aspect of Dinosaur World’s exhibits where you will find over 150 of these life size dinosaurs along with interactive exhibits. Activities include the Fossil Dig, where you can search through sand looking for fossils to take home; and at Boneyard, you can uncover a life-size skeleton waiting for visitors.

PALM BEACH - Watch a once in a lifetime circus extravaganza presented by The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey as they bring you though a fantasy-filled world during A Magical Holiday Circus Spectacular. From Dec. 28 - Jan. 2, experience the wonderment and holiday magic intersected with unparallel powers of imagination.

MANALAPAN (Near West Palm Beach) – The Florida Stage announces the World Premier of Goldie, Max & Milk from Dec. 15 - Jan. 16 at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts. Celebrating the company’s first season at the Kravis Center, this comedy, mixing humor and beauty is one of the four new plays the company will introduce this season. Call (561) 515 – 6372 to reserve your seats, or visit

ST. AUGUSTINE – The St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum opens Nov. 2010 and is located just a short walk from the Castillo de San Marcos, marking the historic battle grounds for Spanish soldiers’ centuries ago. This interactive, educational attraction features archeological finds, replica pirate ships, and pirate artifacts.

DUCK KEY (Florida Keys) – Learn to ride the waves or paddle the crystal clear waters around Hawks Cay Resort. They recently added Stand-Up Paddleboarding to its list of activities, which lets new and experienced visitors see dolphins, fish, homes and boat shows from a never seen perspective. Call (305) 743-7000 or check out

KEY LARG0 – Scuba Divers can now explore more of the dive capital of the world with the Key Largo Scuba Shack. The Scuba Shack now offers dive vessel service in their Burpee dive vessel that accommodates six to ten divers. The vessel also allows them to customize a planned charter for morning, afternoon or night dive excursions. For more information, call (305) 735-4313 or visit

Openings & Renovations
PENSACOLA - The Holiday Inn Resort Pensacola Beach will open in February 2011. The 206-room property will feature gulf front rooms, a full-service restaurant, 10,000 square feet of meeting space, a state-of-the-art fitness center, and lazy river pool with cascading waterfalls. Located on the sugar white sands of the Gulf of Mexico, this resort is footsteps away from restaurants with excellent local flavor and many night spots for all ages.

JACKSONVILLE – Starwood hotels will open the Aloft Jacksonville –Tapestry Park in January 2011, featuring approximately 3,600 square feet of meeting space. The meeting space will be located in an attached building and can be separated into three smaller spaces for various events. The new hotel has been deigned to meet criteria to receive a LEED Green Building Rating System. The hotel is located next to a recently opened III Forks Steakhouse, providing guests a exceptional fine dinning experience steps from their guestroom.

JACKSONVILLE – Coming to the Museum of Science and History (MOSH) in November will be Florida’s largest digital planetarium. This new addition will include a 60-foot dome theatre offering a total-immersion entertainment experience. Not a science guru? The programming will reach beyond astronomy to include history and natural science, blockbuster films and documentaries.

ST. PETERSBURG – Set to open Jan 11.11 The Dali Museum will hold the largest collection of Salvador Dali’s work in the world, outside of Spain. The gallery will display works of art from a 2,140 piece collection, including 96 oil paintings. The exterior of the building is a work of art, featuring more then 900 triangular-shaped glass panels, wrapping around the building like a Dali Clock.

PALM BEACH – The Four Seasons Resort Palm Beach plans to unveil new guestrooms in January 2011 that feature a spa-inspired sensibility, combining the sophistication and natural beauty of the nearby waterfront in the resorts 210 rooms. Behind the transformation is designer Brian Glukstein, a well-known Canadian interior designer who plans to combine a contemporary look with a casual sophistication, comfort and understated elegance.

PALM BEACH – Re-opening this season at The Breakers is L’Escalier, the crown of their dining collection, serving contemporary French cuisine in a refined atmosphere of Versace china, Christofle silver, Riedel crystal and talented service staff presenting each dish in a classic European style.

PALM BEACH GARDENS – VERDEA, opening in December at The Embassy Suites Palm Beach gardens will provide an elegant natural gourmet dining experience. The restaurant emphasizes flavor and simplicity by blending local, seasonal and organic ingredients to create a new and exciting environment for all guests. To reserve your table, call (561) 691-3165 or visit

MARATHON (Florida Keys) - The Holiday Inn Express & Suites is Marathon Key’s newest lodging addition accommodated guests for the first time on Nov. 5. The hotel has 134 rooms with amenities including a marina with docks for guests, a large outdoor pool facility, a 5,000 square-foot tiki bar and 24-hour fitness and business centers. The resort also offers free wireless high-speed internet access in rooms and throughout the resort. For reservations, call 888-465-4329 or visit


Photos copyright Anne Gordon

Posted by Anne Gordon on Saturday, 18th December, 2010.

Friday, December 17, 2010

'Women are Persons' monument in Ottawa


Toronto, December 17, 2010—When it comes to Canadian history and culture, there is no city like Ottawa. Museums. Galleries. Theatre. Music. Festivals. The world’s largest skating rink. First class hotels. And, just in time for the holidays, Ottawa Tourism offers two new getaway packages that make discovering (or re-discovering) your Canadian identity an affordable and fun experience.

Chateau Laurier in Ottawa
Participating Ottawa hotels are now offering Get to Know Your Canada and Taste of Canada packages. Both are two-night getaway packages, which offer a Third Night Free at participating hotels for visitors wanting to extend their stay in Ottawa one more day. The Third Night Free promotion is valid at participating hotels for bookings made until March 31, 2011—but the actual travel can take place anytime. Each package starts at $116 per night based on a 2-night stay for 2 adults.

Get to know your Canada
If you’re new to Canada or simply in need of a pleasant refresher course, this two-night Ottawa getaway package is the perfect choice. Immerse yourself in Canadian history, culture and achievement at national museums and galleries. Tour the Capital’s famous national sites and landmark attractions. And join in the celebration at seasonal festivals and national events all year round. It’s all about getting to know Canada—and doing it all in one quintessentially Canadian place! Book your two-night getaway package and extend your stay with a 3rd night free at participating hotels.

Parliament Building in Ottawa
Taste of Canada 
Sample some of the best of Canada with this two-night getaway package in the Capital. If you’re into the great Canadian outdoors, just step outside your Ottawa hotel and go skating and skiing this winter and enjoy great golfing, cycling, running, hiking and water sports next summer. Your tastes tend more toward arts and culture? Ottawa’s got you covered with the country’s biggest lineup of national museums, galleries and performing arts. Want a taste of Canadian culinary excellence? Ottawa’s community of renowned chefs is happy to oblige. Come experience a taste of Canada, whatever your pleasure! Book your two-night getaway package and extend your stay with a 3rd night free at participating hotels.

To reserve the Get to Know Your Canada and A Taste of Canada packages
Visitors wanting information or to reserve the Get To Know Your Canada and A Taste of Canada packages can visit, a powerful website operated by Ottawa Tourism and supported by the region’s tourism industry.

There are many other packages available as well, including Hockey Night in the Capital, Rendezvous for Two, Family Discovery, and Cultural Odyssey.

From Ottawa Tourism

Photos copyright Anne Gordon

Posted by Anne Gordon on Friday, 17th December, 2010.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Camel, Kajaliyo, dressed for a wedding at India's Pushkar Fair


Jhool with jingling anklets
On the mela at the Pushkar Fair, I sat for nearly an hour on a three legged leather stool at the feet of a majestic camel called affectionately by his owner “My Loving Camel Kajaliyo”. Watched by curious passers-by, I was tutored by Ashok Shivani (Kajaliyo's owner) on the intricacies of camel accoutrements.

 A specialist in desert culture, Ashok is also the proprietor of 'Collector's Paradise' in the holy city of Pushkar where he does a brisk trade in items of museum quality. From his tented shelter on the desert sand, he sells turbans, camel quilts, bridles, camel girths, old bells, antique bridal veils, dowry bags and marriage shawls.

Camel bells hang below stomach
As we talked, Kajaliyo, decked out in wedding finery, snorted and shuffled beside us. With his gorbandh – a necklace of pearls, beads and shells – a camel belt woven from goats hair, numerous bells and tassels dangling from his neck, jingling anklets on his front legs, tail ornaments and embroidered saddle cloth, he would have been a handsome gift for a desert king.

Photos copyright Anne Gordon

Posted by Anne Gordon on Thursday, 16th December, 2010.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Conditions are treacherous on the 402 near the town of Sarnia in south western Ontario.  Close to 300 people are stranded in their cars.  Some have been trapped overnight as snow squalls, driving winds and plunging temperatures make for dangerous conditions for rescuers. 

The military has been called out to assist with the rescue and helicopters are lifting people in baskets from this desolate white-out scene.  If conditions don't improve soon, snowmobiles, ATVs and heavy trucks will be added to the rescue operation.

Posted by Anne Gordon on Tuesday, 14th December, 2010

Monday, December 13, 2010

Oxford's Christmas Market


There could be no better time than Christmas to visit Oxford's famous historic landmark - the Covered Market.  It's a great place all year round, but the festive season has a special magic.

Candy canes
 Evergreen wreaths decorate crowded stalls and shops, the resinous fragrance of firs fills the air and Christmas trees and huge bunches of holly and mistletoe hang from the raftered ceiling in dense profusion.

Choose a tree and one of the stall assistants will, with the aid of a long pole, hook it down. Before you can say “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas’, it will be trussed up with twine and deposited on your shoulder for the journey home.

There are a wealth of butcher’s shops in the market and as the build-up towards Christmas reaches a crescendo, vast layered displays outside each meat shop groan beneath the weight of pink turkeys, plucked clean but for a feathery ruff encircling each scrawny neck.

Christmas wreaths for sale
At Christmas time and throughout the year, venison, rabbits, pheasant, plump porkers and the occasional Highland deer clad in a coat of coarse gray-brown hair hang from huge butcher’s hooks awaiting the shopper with a taste for the finest of fare.

Throughout the year, the plum contract for butchers in the market is to supply the University with meat. The dons (professors) and their often illustrious guests; kings and presidents, oil sheiks and authors, wine and dine in a style unknown to the ordinary man. The custom of these grand colleges cannot help but improve the cash flow.

Posted by Anne Gordon on Monday, 13th December, 2010.


 Visitors to Ottawa have plenty of choice this winter whether they want to stay inside or outside. This December, the Ottawa region will be energized by the lights of Christmas, outdoor skating, the Nutcracker and, of course, hockey! And if you book your hotel or getaway package before March 31, 2011 , you can enjoy a 3rd night free at participating hotels. Visit for full details on this as well as the other special offers and packages available.

Over the coming weeks, Ottawa will play host to Christmas Lights Across Canada; performances of The Nutcracker and Nativity: a Coyote’s Christmas at the National Arts Centre, The Bell Capital Cup hockey tournament and the 41st skating season on the Rideau Canal Skateway where visitors can skate, for free, on the world’s largest outdoor rink.

For the past 25 years, Ottawa has had a Christmas lights festival to brighten the Ottawa winter for visitors and local residents. At first, the lights were only ablaze on Parliament Hill, but since then the programme has expanded. This year, there will be over 60 spectacularly lit sites along Confederation Boulevard downtown. Christmas Lights Across Canada begins on December 2 on Parliament Hill with a free 6 pm Illumination Ceremony. Over 300,000 lights will be switched on and will make the city glow until January 7, 2011.

The National Arts Centre (NAC) in downtown Ottawa is the country’s premier performing arts complex. This winter, the NAC will stage a series of dance, music and drama performances, all marking the Holiday Traditions of Canada.

The Alberta Ballet will be on stage at the National Arts Centre December 1-5 dancing the colourful Nutcracker. From December 8 to 23, the NAC presents its own interpretation of the First Christmas as seen through the eyes of three wise coyotes! Nativity is a holiday musical comedy for the whole family. The hot ticket for cultural tourists this Christmas? The National Art Centre Orchestra's evening performances of Handel’s Messiah on December 14 and 15.

The world’s largest hockey tournament, the Bell Capital Cup, will be staged for the 12th year at ice rinks all across the Ottawa region. For spectators, this is a very affordable hockey tournament to watch—day passes start at $3 for seniors, and full tourney passports cost just $12. Children under 12 are free! Visitors to the city are welcome to watch over 2,000 players on more than 500 teams from Canada, U.S. and Europe compete December 30, 2010-January 3, 2011.

The city of Ottawa is treasured for the beautiful Rideau Canal, which winds its way through the downtown core. Each winter, once the canal freezes, thousands of visitors and locals head downtown, day and night, to skate on the 7.8 km long Rideau Canal Skateway. It is free; there are change facilities, food concessions, skate rentals and sharpening stations right on the frozen surface. Weather dictates when the canal is actually available to skaters; but it usually happens in late December or early January.

Tourists wanting information, tickets and lodging reservations for events and festivals can visit, a powerful website operated by Ottawa Tourism and supported by the region’s growing tourism industry. There are many packages available including Hockey Night in the Capital, Rendez-vous for Two, Family Discovery, and Cultural Odyssey

From Ottawa Tourism

Posted by Anne Gordon on Monday 13th December, 2010

Tuesday, December 7, 2010



A Decade of Innovation to Help Giving as a Gift

"Giving Certificates" a great way to give
The original and ultimate way to "Give the Gift of Giving," offered by a nonprofit organization based in Los Angeles, has been adding heart to people's holidays for a decade. Slip “Giving Certificates” in holiday cards, stockings, and books for a gift that can help any nonprofit chosen by the recipient.

From anywhere in the world (you don't need to go to a store), you can order online, at, the original way of giving someone else the joy of giving-- the powerful gift of donating to a great cause. Giving Certificates are actual Charity Checks, good for the full amount (no fees deducted like on some cards) and ready to be deposited by any of more than 1.5 million charities.

The recipient chooses the charity, fills in the payee line, and gives directly – no need to use a computer to make the money count, and you know the full funds are going directly to the causes you choose. You, the giver, are eligible for any tax deduction. No plastic card to lose or to hurt the environment.

It's the nonprofit Charity Checks' ten-year anniversary of making the joy of giving a public choice. In the pilot program of 2000, Scott Cook, founder of INTUIT, told the San Jose Mercury, "The checks fit the founder of's Jeff Bezos’ rule of success: An invention that allows people to do something they couldn't before."

Charity Checks, a trailblazer
Charity Checks was the trailblazing first to let anyone "Give the Gift of Giving” to any 501(c)3 charity or cause, the first to make the service available on the internet, and the icebreaking vehicle that cleared the path for other organizations that now offer similar kinds of philanthropy.

Charity Checks is still the only way the gift recipient can give the full money directly to the charity, instead of going through a middle party, and Charity Checks is a nonprofit and doesn't charge a transaction fee (unlike some profit-making web sites and card companies that have recently opened for business).

Charity Checks offers Charitable Literacy programs in schools
From its beginnings, innovative Charity Checks has also offered Charitable Literacy programs in schools where kids can learn to be thoughtful givers.

Charity Checks’ “Pre-paid Philanthropy” also led the way for anyone to be able to make a tax-deductible donation in one year and to choose the cause in another (a bit like donor-advised funds, except you don’t need thousands of dollars).

Charity Checks also creatively forged a way to give anonymously but still get a tax receipt, an easy way to avoid being on mailing lists and receiving future solicitations that use up resources and fill your mailbox.

Charity Checks great as pre-paid gifts
A drawer full of Charity Checks lets you be ready for any occasion as pre-paid gifts and thank yous, and a great way to make your own donations when you feel like it – just slip the Charity Check in the envelope. It’s already paid for and waiting to do good.

There were no such gift or donation devices when Charity Checks started at the turn of the century. The number of charities in the United States recognized by the IRS has more than doubled (now exceeding 1.5 million) in that time, providing even more ways for recipients to let their gifts help animals, people, and the planet.

With so many problems, needs, and troubles this Holiday season, Charity Checks can provide the Joy of Giving gifts that let others give donations for solutions.

The volunteer-run website contains images and testimonials from Companies and families:



Quotes from the husband-and-wife founders:
“Instead of your holiday gift becoming landfill someday, you can let your gift today help save a person’s life, rescue an animal, restore a forest or save a library. The recipient has the power of choosing and the joy of giving. And you can take the time you saved not shopping to be with loved ones.”

“It’s been wonderful to see families develop new traditions for the holidays, based on helping others, and it’s great to get thank yous from companies and people who are so glad this gift option exists.”

Founders are available to answer questions: 800-854-5601


Give the Joy of Giving
Charity Checks, Inc., a nonprofit
Home of Charitable Literacy &
America's only Giving Certificates, good for any charity

From Lisa Sonne

Posted by Anne Gordon on Tuesday, 7th December, 1010

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Fish for sale at Victoria Farmer's Market


Taking place every third Saturday of the month until March 2011, the Victoria Downtown Public Market Society and its vendors will be raising their tents to showcase local fare at the Winter Farmer’s Market.  Located in downtown Victoria’s Market Square, the winter market runs from 11:00 am until 3:00 pm and focuses on local food producers at every level - farmers, fishers, butchers, bakers, cheesemakers, preservers, brewers, vintners, florists and restaurants.

From Haliburton Farms and Kildara Farms to Saltspring Island Cheese Company to the Vancouver Island Salt Company there is something for every taste and something to tempt every tummy.

The Victoria Downtown Public Market Society was formed in August 2010 to raise awareness, support and funds for the establishment of a permanent year-round marketplace in the downtown core of the City of Victoria, BC. For more information visit

Post from Tourism Victoria.

Images copyright Anne Gordon


During the month of December 2010, visitors to Victoria, BC can explore the history of Christmas in British Columbia's most haunted city with a Ghosts of Christmas Past Walking Tour.

The 90-minute tour, offered Friday and Saturday nights starting at 7:30 pm, provide new insights into Victoria's ghosts and legends by focusing on stories of the supernatural at Christmas. The legend of Christmas Hill, the ghosts of Helmcken Alley, Victoria's first documented ghost sighting - Adelaide Griffin at Christmas in 1861 and the Christmas Eve assassination on the steps of the Roman Catholic cathedral in 1890 are included.

The Ghosts of Christmas Past tours begin at the Tourism Victoria Visitor Centre in the Inner Harbour. Tickets are purchased from the guide before the tour and cost $13.00 CDN/USD for adults and $11.00 CDN/USD for seniors and students. Reservations are not required. Group bookings are also available.

Discover the Past also offers additional walking tours throughout the holiday season including Christmas in Old Victoria, historic walks through Chinatown and Christmas tours by the Old Cemeteries Society. For more information visit

Post from Tourism Victoria.

Summertime in Butchart Gardens


Through January 6, 2011 the Butchart Gardens launches its 24th season of The Magic of Christmas. Amongst the tens of thousands of lights found twinkling throughout the lush garden paradise, visitors can take in the delights of the season through the various displays and activities available during the holiday season. Whether it be searching for each of the scenes depicting the Twelve Days of Christmas magnificently tucked away in the gardens, enjoying the live music and traditional caroling held nightly in the Piazza, or by donning a pair of skates and taking a spin on the popular outdoor skating rink, there is something for the young and the young at heart.

For those with little ones in tow, don’t miss taking a ride on the Rose Carousel at The Butchart Gardens. Housed within the Children's Pavilion, The Rose Carousel features thirty hand-carved, hand-painted animals, a menagerie of characters ranging from bears, to horses, to ostriches, to zebras. The carousel is the first of its kind on Vancouver Island.

A National Historic Site of Canada, The Butchart Gardens began in 1904 with an effort to beautify a quarry, and today whether you are a horticulture enthusiast or someone who simply delights in the magic of the season, a visit to The Gardens during the holidays is a must do. The Butchart Gardens is open 365 days a year including Christmas day. Skate rentals are available and sessions begin on the hour, lasting 40 minutes. Reservations and group bookings are also available. For more information visit

Blog from Tourism Victoria.

Images copyright Anne Gordon.