Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas 2004

Xmas Letter
Don and Irene

The big events in the first half of the year had to do with our grandchildren. This past year our grandson Jack , now aged 9, continued living with us in Rieux Minervois attending the local school. Jack’s after school days were busy with volleyball., soccer, swimming , bicycle club, tennis and drum lessons.. When time permitted fishing and long walks with the dog in the hills and by the sea were frequent interludes. Homework every night and stories at bedtime ended the day. He ate everything and in large quantities. This is an indirect way of saying that Irene and I were kept very busy and dropped into bed exhausted every night. Jack thrived and became a scholar. We loved every minute of it. He is now fluently bilingual and happily back in Toronto with his mom, dad and brother and attending a French school. I should mention that in France the teachers mark the children’s work every day whereas in Canada Cathy tells me that weeks can go by without any feedback from his teachers.

In June our grandaughter Zoe, age 11, arrived for three weeks. Zoe is bright and beautiful and joined into the spirit of our living here. Jack and Zoe are pals and enjoyed the beaches, trips to Carcassonne’s ancient walled city and an escape to a medieval chateau where we moved in for two days. Irene also took Zoe on the train to visit Montpelier.

A second big event was that Irene became a dual citizen of France and Canada in September. The bureaucracy moves slowly here and they say it may take 4 months before we receive the papers and the details of what this means ; in particular what it means to her Canadian partner.

For the spring break we spent a week at Agadir in Morrocco. It was warm, the resort had a club for kids so we could escape and visit the countryside and Berber villages, wandering about in the markets. Jack suggested that I not indicate that I am his grandfather because everyone there thought he was a French kid. We liked Morroco very much and will be returning ; this time to Fez in February. Will also visit X where Irene’s dad while in the French Foreign Legion taught at the conservatory and conducted on the radio a live concert of some of his compositions.

The wine business started out as a hobby but has grown each year ; this year business doubled and I now have three people out selling part time. Catherine now manages the day to day in the office. Irene says I am supposed to retire or at least slow down . With others on the front line maybe I can slow down and this will be my goal for 2005. Irene and I will focus our time on travelling about this beautiful countryside and visiting winemakers on their estates and discovering new wine to represent.

The wine business took me to Canada three times this past year and Irene decided to join me on my trip in August with plans to return in three weeks to France. She tripped on construction rubble on the road, probably while gazing at the sky, and broke her left kneecap in two. This resulted in an operation to screw and wire the pieces back together , a brief period in the hospital, fine cuisine prepared by her husand, several weeks of convalescence, and pleasant visits with friends. We walked about 5km today so in spite of some swelling and pain she is almost better

What else can I tell you ? This area is a vacation with many places to visit, weekly concerts both jazz and classical to attend, great food, and the hills, mountains and the sea nearby. We never tire of visiting nearby large cities like Bacelona, Montpelier, Toulouse, and mny of the smaller ones in between. We avoid like the plague all giant shopping malls and fast food joints. Fortunately this part of the world hasn’t yet been overrun. Chuckie, our noble dog walks and drives with us everywhere, eats with us in the best of restaurants and even attends the odd concert. She is a happy and friendly dog and good friend.

I follow what is happening in the world by reading daily Le Monde and the Herald Tribune plus scan without fail The Toronto Star, Globe and Mail plus several sites that tell me much more about what is going on. Irene tells me that it is utimely to pass on my observations and opinions at this time. Just ask me for them by return mail and I might fill a page or two.

I will end with my evening menu. Spaghetti with a fresh sliced truffle and garlic , a salad and supported by a superb bottle of wine.

Christmas 2005

My Christmas Letter 2005; a Review of the Past and a Glimpse of the Future.

This year Don’s main accomplishment was reaching 76 and almost retiring from the wine business. Irene isn’t talking about age. We are in the process of turning over our business to someone else and we plan to become freeloaders. It’s another career change. It reactivates the old question " what do you want to be when you grow up ? " Out projects will now focus on growing vegetables, walking the dog, eating delicious things, reading , attending concerts, a bit of travel and trying to stay healthy. Don will continue trying to figure out how the world should be run. No one will listen so it’s a fairly safe hobby.

Don’s Observations : The toughest thing for me to figure out this past year has been globalization. The economiist and MBA’s in Brussels tell me that instead of eating fresh things that grow in France I should be willing to eat the same things arriving from other parts of the world because it is the right thing to do. My farming neighbours doen’t agree because some think they will go broke; but I guess this is good because some poor guy working for an oligarch in a far away country and earning 50 cents an hour will keep his job and our prices will be lower in the supermarket. My only problem is that these imported things don’t taste very good. I understand that scientists working for Monsanto can now genetically modify and replicate just about everything from sheep to prunes. For example, it is well known that the zuchini is the fastest growing vegetable in the world. I was reading in a supermarch√© publication that they can grow three to six feet and gain about 50 pounds in a day under genetic modification. For this reason I suspect they can convert them to look like cucumbers, tomatoes, peaches, cabbages, apples and even strawberries. And they are perfectly shaped, as big as you want them and nicely coloured, they fit neatly into boxes; and you can grow tons of them real fast. However, they all taste like zuchinis.

I think Marge Bumsag of Scarborough Ontario.sums up the public attitude about this very well "Them fruit and vegetables that I buy in the supermarket are cheaper than that stuff from Ontario, and they ain't got no bumps, bugs or worm holes and they always look so pretty, neat and tidy . My kids doesn’t eat them anyway (unless I threaten to bust em one) so the taste ain't important. "

So much for Don's intellectual interests.

Irene’s Project

Irene this past year undertook to learn more about her father’s past. She was still a child when he was taken away. Contacts have been made with information sources in Germany, France , Holland and France with follow up visits to Mecknes (Morocco), Paris, and London where her father had performed some of his music. A film, made in England, has been recovered, plus a few letters, critics comments and governmant documents. It ‘s a work in progress. Irene has retained some of his musical scores and is also pursuing with several interested musicians the possibility of playing it again.

The nice things about this past year were :
 Irene was finally accepted as a French citizen. Now we can start living here most of the time
 We like our little Cleo because the roads in the towns and up in the hills are too narrow for anything bigger and the big ones with fat wheels sure eat up a lot of gas. Maybe next year we will replace our little car with another one. I was reading that Delanoe, the mayor of Paris, is planning to banish SUV’s to the city suburbs ; it is another resaon to buy small.
 feeling good about the winning No vote in the European elections. No vs Yes was a stupid choice because nobody knew what it was all about. The politicians said vote Yes so saying No was simply saying that everything isn’t inevitable, there seem to be a lot of potholes in the road, and someone should pause, think and listen. My kids used to do this with me all the time.
 As the year winds down we celebrated the meltdown of Bush.
 The company of our fabulous dog..
 Eating good food and drinking great wine in France – most of it fresh and locally produced..
 breathing fresh air with factories and big cities far enough away ; and the scenery around here is great.
 Lots of good music both classical and jazz that we enjoyed here
 both feeling healthy aside from normal aches and pains. More than half the people born about the time we were, have past away, so it is nice to look back on another healthy year.
 Our visit to Morrocco again and staying in a palatial suite in a palace in the ancient medina of Mecknes. It’s a country with wonderful weather, sights, sounds and smells. Our second time in Morocco and we will be going back again ; maybe in 2006
 We were back in Canada, Don in the spring and again with Irene in the siummer and fall. Time with spent with family and friends
 Our children continue to successfully manage their lives ; we like them and I think they like us too.

The unhappy things this past year
 The death of our cousin and close friend Connie Morgan. A great friend to our family, filled with humour and an interest in the world around her; she will be missed
 The death of a childhood friend, Bob Barrow. He showed great courage and warmth to the end.
 Bush , everyone around him, and the misery he spreads; Our friend, Lorne Bogdon, says forget about him and take up birdwatching.


No objectives but a wish list
 To remain healthy
 Something new to get on with. Several ideas percolating
 To figure out globalization
 Everything bad happening to Bush
 To keep enjoying the things we enjoyed in 2005

 Everyone in the world dreams of owning two or three cars, big houses and lots of energy consuming devices, politicians want to get elected, so the world will keep getting warmer.
 Bush will continue to be a pain in the neck and spread misery.
 Iraq’s new Shiite dominated government will try to establish a fifth century caliphate, and all hell will break loose
 The rich will get richer and the poor will go nowhere.
 The Rapture won’t happen and a new date will be set (Pollution might just do it someday and it will serve us right).
 Don still won’t understand Globalization and will take up birdwatching

Enjoy the season !

Don and Irene

Christmas 2006

For us 2006 was just another year in France. It is sort of like an extended vacation. Our little town in the Languedoc is located just below the Black Mountains. The highest peak is the Pic du Nore at a height of about 1200 metres. The mountains to the west are covered in pine forests and to the east more open land with villages here and there, nestled in the hills. We are walkers and winter and summer with our dog Chuckie we head into these hills a few times a week to walk on one of the unlimited number of trails to choose from. In the spring the wild flowers, rosemary, thyme, and lavender and blossoms are in abundance and the air is fresh from their fragrance. In the summer we can escape the heat in these hills by one of the lakes and in the fall the wild mushrooms are there to pick. I never tire of looking down on the valley from these hills and beyond to the Pyrenees to the south.

Alternatives for our daily outings include walks on paths along the Canal Midi, trips to the long sandy beaches by the sea, to the salt ponds where a variety of sea birds – flamingoes, cormorants, pelicans and numerous others - feed on the shrimp, and trips south to towns on either side of the Spanish border and as far south as Barcelona.

Food and music are a regular part of our outings. Our favourite restaurant nearby in the Corbiere mountains has just received the top Michelin ratings of three stars and we will visiting again shortly. As for music, jazz and classical festivals and concerts are frequent events too numerous to list here.

We also have a naturally irrigated garden below the town where we grow everything. Last year included several varieties of tomatoes, salads that change with the seasons, fine beans, onions, potatoes, artichokes, cucumbers, zucchinis, melons, assorted herbs, strawberries and raspberries plus an incredible assortment of weeds. Gardens in this town replace golf clubs as a place where families can sit and meet and bore each other talking about gardening techniques instead of golf shots. We have another garden across from the house where we grow flowers but also produce large quantities of figs and pomegranates. I am a slave to these gardens. A few days away and everything is thirsty, two weeks in Canada and the weeds have won. It is war. Big question is for how long can my back keep this up. Maybe a smaller garden next year.

In short, this is how we spend most of our time together.

Don’s Observations: Last year I talked about globalization and the need to eat tasteless genetically modified things that grow thousands of miles away because politicians and their friends tell us that we should. Our Good friend Marg Bumsag eloquently summed up the public’s attitude about this when she said; “them fruit and vegetables in the supermarket are cheaper than that locally grown stuff and they ain’t got no bumps and wormholes and look neat and tidy. She says “My kids don’t eat them anyway (unless I bust them in the mouth) so the taste ain’t important.

 This year’s serious topic concerns Foie Gras, methane gas and environmental pollution. Americans have stopped eating Foie Gras (fat liver) because it is cruel to force feed geese. As every US citizen must know, only the detestable French can be so cruel. By the same logic not sure why the herbivorous animal lovers don’t ban the many more factory raised chickens and pigs that are raised on wires in windowless factories. Anyway to be fair to these herbivorous animals we should all probably stop eating meat and that goes for what my dog and wild carnivores eat as well. The problem is that replacing meat with vegetable matter like beans will cause us all to emit methane gas (CH4) more frequently and this will seriously raise the methane level in the atmosphere thus leading to an acceleration in environmental pollution. According to scientists, gas emitted from anthropogenic sources (cattle) is already a serious contributor to environmental pollution. Enough is enough. We need to think more carefully about this. Readers thoughts about this would be appreciated.

Some Additional Nice Things About 2006

 Our fabulous dog, Chuckie. Most North Americans think he is an Airedale but he is actually a mostly Griffon, a medium sized dog that likes to run. I know that dog and cat lovers are bores to everyone who doesn’t own one but we love this dog who is our constant companion. He goes everywhere with us, our walks, our trips to the market, to restaurants, the banks, stays in hotels and wherever. The French like dogs and they are welcome almost everywhere.
 Irene had kept the manuscripts of her dad’s music that was written in the early forties before his deportation. With the help of Peter and Catherine and professional musician friends in Toronto we were thrilled to hear this lovely music for the first time. Irene visited London and Paris and uncovered copies of a musical film produced in 1937 called the Robber Baron that her dad wrote the music for, arranged and conducted. It has become a cult film in Holland.
 Last year I said that we feel good that Bush is looking worse and worse, well this year he is recognized as a disaster so we are feeling even better.
 I retired from the wine business. It was mostly fun while it lasted, particularly with the suppliers and my clients but it was time to quit running back and forth between countries, peddling and lugging about cases of wine, chasing collections and fighting with the LCBO. Tim Lovelock, a friend who has a lengthy history and excellent reputation in the wine business has now ably taken over Curries’ Wine Selection.
 Our vacation in Marakesh, Morocco – Included visits into the ancient Medina with its narrow streets only wide enough for pedestrians, donkeys and motorbikes, a 4x4 trip to into the snow-capped Atlas Mountains, plus swimming and wonderful food every day. It’s our third visit to Morocco and we will be back. With global warming the mountains have less snow each year thus diminishing the arable land below. Canadians might be selfishly smug about this because it will be lessen the long winter season, but the continents that depend on their mountains for moisture will greatly suffer.
 We were back in Canada briefly in April and again for 6 weeks in August/September to spend time with our family including my sisters Joan and Margaret who came up from the States. Also caught up after many years with the Rev. Dick Fleming, a close friend from high school and university days in Montreal.
 Many visits to France by friends and family during the year including sons, Peter and David, grandson Jack, and Irene’s friends - Traude Macht from Germany and Michele Averbug, her first friend when she came to Canada in 1952. Irene also went off to Barcelona to visit with Lynn Young from Ottawa and her daughter who is teaching guitar at the university there. Grandson Jack was here for a month in July and grandpa was forced to swim, cycle and climb over rocks but drew the line on white water rafting (it overturned), tree climbing and go carting. I am still here at 77. He is a nice kid.
 Started a Blog site but still not sure where it is going.

Christmas 2007

The hardest part of writing a Xmas letter is starting it. What to say ? Highlights of our year ? The good things and the bad things about this world ? Something happy, Something sad ? Getting older ? My wonderful dog ? Reflections and what’s next ? Maybe a bit of bragging would help to make you all envious. Irene never brags so this is a problem. I’ll just start and see where it goes.
I’ll start with the big highlight. Sixty five years after Irene’s father’s deportation to Germany his yellowing manuscripts are coming to life with a CD made of his music from these manuscripts and an additional piece since found in Germany. The process was started last year by Cathy and Peter who met up with three very fine and well known Canadian musicians, Norman Hathaway, violinist, Catherine Wilson, pianist and Leslie Fagan, soprano who gathered some other musicians and put together a concert in Toronto of several pieces. This concert represented the first hearing of this lovely music, and for us, and I know for many in the hall, it was a moving experience.

In the meantime in France a concert pianist, Bertrand Giraud, who was giving a concert in our town met with Irene and took copies of the manuscripts back to Paris, was impressed and in collaboration with Amaury du Closel, conductor of the Bucharest Symphony Orchestra and with a bit of help from the French Government prepared a CD of about twenty pieces. This has kept Irene busy throughout the year researching libraries in England, France, Morocco and Germany about her father’s past and including uncovering another manuscript and copyright evidence of other pieces as yet unfound. In addition she has been busy editing and carrying on an active correspondence with the musicians. Against her will she has become an overnight expert using email, search engines and word processing. In May we will be going up to Paris to hear some pieces of Alfred Tokayer’s music in concert. Amaury du Closel has written a book entitled ‘The Voices Stifled by the Third Reich’ It provides the basis for a week of music by this lost generation of musicians from this era and her father’s music will be included. Alfred Tokayer’s disc will be launched at the same time. We have now received additional requests for concerts in France and Germany.

Irene was hoping that someday she would just hear his music and what has occurred has exceeded her wildest dreams.

Another highlight this year is that Cathy decided to bring her two boys to France for the school year. She has a house nearby so we see them almost daily. The boys are now totally bilingual and I think enjoying it here very much. Jack, now 12 and growing rapidly, is building friendships and has taken up fishing and swimming with a vengeance. Ben, age 8, stays closer to home but is proving to be a scholar. They talk our ears off so it’s keeping us young, if we don’t die in the process.

We see more of our friends here than when we were in Canada with many passing through during the year including our sons David and Peter. Add the friends, both French and expats, we have here and we are never lonely.

These are happy years here. Comparatively inexpensive and generally healthier in comparison with living in a big city ; wonderful food - mostly local and fresh, magnificent scenery around us that we never tire of, regular exercise, and music – both jazz and classical – everywhere. Add civilized cities nearby like Montpellier, Toulouse and Barcelone to escape to and the high speed TGV to get us anywhere in Europe. As for French and European politics in a newly formed and still chaotic European Union, it’s wild and filled with endless debates and keeps us awake.

About the world; you follow the news too, so there isn’t much I can add. (I do write a blog if you are interested in my ramblings) I guess my big concern is that the twentieth century was all about the ME society, consumerism, globalization and GNP growth. If Gore is right and the world is running out of time then we will have to switch quickly to becoming a WE instead of a ME society to pull us out of our gluttonous and destructive habits. Forget the scientific magic pills to save us ; it’s up to us and I have my doubts.

And, oh yes, my dog ! She is a beautiful, lively but gentle and a loveable animal. Shares our walks and because of her good manners, our frequent restaurant meals. She is our good friend. You might accuse us, like all dog owners, of being biased but we can say that of owners of cats, budgies, and even some foolish gold fish owners, not to mention mothers of small children.

Irene celebrated her 80th birthday this October and her young husband passed his 78th birthday in December. We are still in good health although our joints are getting creaky and etc, etc, etc. The sad thing about getting older is that in the past three years we have lost some wonderful friends, still loving life, and full of warmth, generosity and humour until the end. Linda Truckel Smith, Gigi MacDonald, Connie Morgan, Boris Kaufman, Bob Barrow, and John Dentay are still in our thoughts and will be missed.

As for Santa I hear he will soon need a boat instead of a sleigh.

Merry Xmas to all

Don and Irene Currie