First Steps in the New Year

Posted by Kitara Julian On 2:32 PM 0 comments
We’re approaching the first steps of the New Year 2009. Speaking of steps, that reminds me, both our calendar and that of the Maya of Central America has 365 days in a year. On a few expeditions to Mexico, when I was still agile and able, I’d climb the 365 steps of ancient Mayan and Aztec pyramids (the number of steps symbolizing a full calendar year.) By the way, do you know the trick to climbing pyramids?
Mexico is in on our radar screen these days. What I find fascinating whenever we have the opportunity to go there, is not just the architecture and keen intelligence represented by these ancient sites, but today to witness the vibrance of its artists and craftspeople.
On each trip we notice new and different designs have surfaced, often combined with a highly developed sense of colour. It’s evidence of a vast reservoir in the genes of these people, this creative diversity and originality. Mexico is so nearby, yet so far removed from our North American, often vulgar display of goods and colours. During the holidays we went to a major shopping mall, just to look, and once again, this non-presence of aesthetics and harmony made itself seen and known, with a few exceptions.
In the mall we noticed all kinds of sales. What always has my attention is that the price of something hits home and has a common language, but when it comes to talking about an object by colour, it becomes more difficult to describe to someone who has not seen a particular item you’re talking about. For example, on display were several sweaters and dresses. Blue, Green, Red. Say I tell someone, “There is a beautiful blue sweater for sale, but you must decide, for it’ll go quickly”, how is that person going to know which colour of Blue we are referring to?
Unless we’d take a sample of the fabric, or bring the person to whom we reveal the “sale” opportunity, he or she will not know which colour we speak of. Now here comes the next step. “It’s priced at $59”. Now this immediately rings a bell. See what we mean? Colour has to be seen, it cannot be talked about. In our society and culture the monetary value of something is at the front burner, but often the magic and mystery of colour is ignored or unknown.
Yet, from the moment we open our infant eyes to the instant we close them forever, we’re exposed to colour. It is a mistake to think that only fashion designers, interior decorators, chemists or artists need to know about colour. The magic and mystery is there for all to see, study, explore, apply, feel and enjoy. Going back to pyramid-climbing: you do it in zig-zag fashion!
Enjoy your first steps into the young Year! Hasta luego, Henri

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Another year - going and coming

Posted by Kitara Julian On 6:13 PM 0 comments
Some of us may not know at times if “we’re coming or going”, but not so with “our” calendar, it’s always clear what day, month and year it is. I say “our” because of course there are other cultures and civilizations that have their own calendars. “End of an error”, era and drama; now we’re all (or almost all) waiting for Obama.
Speaking of traditions and beginnings, let me give you a taste of how New Year was celebrated during my boyhood in the Lowlands, before WWII in the 1930’s. First, supervised by our school teachers, we had to design our own “Best Wishes” card for our parents.
Then, we had to compose our own New Year’s message, with some kind of resolution that we would try to behave, whatever that may be. (Just like today when we hear grown-ups making resolutions but rarely live up to it them.)
Back to the special card, the idea was on January 1, we children would have to stand in front of our parents and read out loud our promises we wrote in our self-made “Hallmark” cards. How is that for overcoming stage fright or public speaking phobia? All the children, from the age they could read and write, had to go through this ordeal.
Now, the evening before (New Year’s Eve), without fail each year, as many members of the whole family that could be corralled together would come to our home. Aunts, uncles, grannies, grandpas, nieces, cousins - you get the idea. This would be on a rotating basis, for example one year we’d all go to an uncle’s home, then the next year to our grandparents, etc. The youngsters played games on their own, and so too the elders, usually cards.
The masterpiece by Jan Steen (seen here) comes to mind which depicts a typical hectic household during this festive time, sometimes a bit chaotic. So even today in the Lowlands if someone’s household is in disorder, we call it “the household of Jan Steen”.
Even though some of the adults may have been teetotallers, on this occasion two traditional beverages were present: Advocaat (an egg-yolk and alcohol concoction), and a drink with fermented raisins. The raisins had been put into jars months ahead, with alcohol and honey. Both drinks were consumed with a teaspoon! And, let us not forget, hot cocoa! And coffee.
Then there were the Oliebollen. These are ping-pong ball (or sometimes tennis ball) size dough deep-fried in hot oil. Before serving they are coated with sugar powder. They taste like a doughnut. Appelflappen were flatter than the Oliebollen, with apple inside.
During the evening the fragrances from these goodies and beverages wandered through the house and into our nostrils, awakening a constant “We want another one” sort of thing. Long before twelve o’clock we young children were supposed to be in bed, but at the stroke of Midnight (on Grandfather’s clock), the Happy Wishes came out, the embracing, kisses, and a type of “Auld Lang Syne” singing.
How do I know all this? Because I peeked, that’s how.
Have a smooth slide into 2009, and easy on the whatever.
Signing off, Henri

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On "Intelligent Electricity"

Posted by Kitara Julian On 3:40 PM 0 comments
Round One of the holiday feasting is over. Round Two – the changing of one year into another, lurks nearby. “Old 2008” is getting by, just so! New-to-be born 2009 awaits on the horizon. We had an unexpected invitation to a pleasant Yuletide dinner at the friendly home of an astronomer. Since we don’t have a vehicle, we were fetched by his colleague, an astrophysicist no less, who specializes in Black Holes, thank you.
This gave us an opportunity to see all the outdoor holiday decorations with their multitude of designs, imagery and lights, in all colours of the spectrum. Always a magical, fairy-tale like phenomena, even more so on a snowy wintry night, a rarity here in Victoria. Sitting thus in the car, being driven by the astrophysicist, I was looking at these multi-coloured lights and wondered (still do) what is “behind” all this electricity?
You know, we take a lot for granted. We make use of all the frontier gadgets, from cell phone to Jumbo jet, and those “cities of the seas”, called cruise ships. Ever wondered what’s it all about? We flip a switch, push a button, Presto! Abracadabra, the lights and equipment work.
Yes, there are also batteries to provide energy, and of course the more progressive among us have solar panels or windmills, however anything we plug-in, or is plugged-in and needs to function, we switch, push or ‘whisper’ and voila! It works. How come?
“Well, that’s because of electricity, my child.”
“What’s electricity?”
“Well, ahem, ahem, Energy, my child.”
“Does it think and feel, does it know what it’s doing?”
“Ahem, well now, you’ve got me!”
See what I mean? There has to be some kind of intelligence, some consciousness behind it all.
That’s why I call it Intelligent Electricity. In the world of hydro and energy companies, they use the term intelligent electricity to refer to grids and eco-smart systems, but my reference is to the mystery of its consciousness.
Now, all those colours we witnessed, speeding by at an average of 60 km per hour, are they also not a mystery? And magical? Of course. We see the same colour range in the Rainbow, except these Yuletide little lamps and lights are an assortment of that spectrum.
And while our astrophysicist friend drove us back home on that snowy night, wondering and pondering about the mystery of this “Intelligence of Electricity”, my hungry eyes (and mind) harvested all that light and colour on that Christmas night, tapping those images and sights, sending it all to my brain, to understand . . . Being in the presence of an astrophysicist, someone who explores far-away galaxies, I return to my age-old question, “Where does all that Space come from, where the great ballroom dance of the Universe takes place?” ‘Signing off for now, Henri

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The Real Meaning of Rudolph's Red Nose

Posted by Kitara Julian On 8:20 AM 0 comments
We had a few requests to elaborate, if possible, on the symbolic meaning of “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”. We gladly oblige, allowing us to share my interpretation with a wider audience. It is very wintry across the continent including here on the West Coast so it’s not only the ‘season’ but here in Victoria we have a rare White Yuletide.
Gene Autry, the singing cowboy, made “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” famous. It was back in 1949 and a big hit on Radio Luxembourg where we first heard it. The man who wrote the lyrics was an American advertising executive, but “Rudolph” is poetry.
I’m not sure how well Robert May knew the bohemian heartbeat of poets and artists, but he definitely hit the mark when it comes to how talent often goes unrecognized. Most artists, the gifted, visionary ones, rarely receive recognition while they’re alive. There are a few, like Picasso, but it’s uncommon.
Many artists are acknowledged by the public only when others, such as highly-popular figures in society, bestow accolades (whether they be painters, composers, sculptors, even some scientists or inventors, and last but not least, a messiah.)
Now, here we have a reindeer with a red nose, and if you care to look a bit closer, you’ll notice that it glows. All the other reindeer called him names and wouldn’t allow Rudolph to join in their games. (Ostracized). They mocked and made fun of him, humiliating poor Rudolph.
Vincent van Gogh comes to mind. He was treated “less than a dog”. Likewise with Emily Carr here in Canada.
On the other hand, Santa could be seen as Time. Through the passing of time, the well-deserved recognition of genius (Rudolph) is recognized, revealing something that was always there from the beginning.
Finally, because of this time lapse, we honour someone special, someone who gave the world beauty and treasures - - food for the soul, in this case the toys and goodies carried by Santa on his sleigh, guided by Rudolph’s glowing nose through the fog (ignorance). Light in Darkness.
Then of course, all the reindeers love Rudolph, and sing out in glee. Just like today we all love the Impressionists or Vincent van Gogh, or whomever, a century after their demise.
Now, yes, we can sing and say, “Rudolph, you’ll go down in history”. But while alive, most great artists had to live in misery.
Well, that’s my version of this popular Yuletide song, which has also been judged by history and become an evergreen. Happy sleigh rides! Henri

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

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

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

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

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'Tis the Season

Posted by Kitara Julian On 8:47 PM 0 comments
‘Tis the season! It’s still snowing here in Victoria, very applicable for Yuletide. Eat, drink, be merry. Everywhere people are visiting friends, going to parties and enjoying traditional dishes and mouth-watering treats over the holidays. But have you ever wondered how Indigenous peoples survived and what their diet was during the long, cold winters of North America? Or, in places like Russia and Scandinavia?
Not only wondered at their survival in freezing temperatures (and surviving they did!), but marvelled at their rich knowledge of flora and fauna?
Speaking of special dishes, when you’ve travelled and seen a bit of the world like we have, you not only encounter ‘primitive’ food markets but enter a time-tunnel and see how things used to be for all of us, long ago.
On these expeditions you need to adjust and adapt to the local food, e.g. sometimes a local delicacy such as in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, sheep eyes in couscous. Or with the Massai of eastern Africa, where I drank “cocktails” of milk & cow’s blood, and elsewhere in Africa munched on fried termites.
[In order to survive, in my boyhood in the Lowlands during WWII we lived on potato peels and flower bulbs, or roots of non-toxic plants. Hunger always triumphs over ‘revulsion’. I know! When some people here in the West say they’re hungry, they mean they have an appetite; many have never experienced real hunger.]
Speaking of markets in far-away lands, if you live in a city in North America you may have a Chinatown. In which case there’s no need to travel to Timbuktu or Harar, Ethiopia to come across foods which for us may be unappetizing.
Here in Victoria’s Chinatown there’s a vast selection of traditional foods, often dried or in powder, as well as many (the so-called aphrodisiacs) which deplete our global rhino, bear or shark population, just to name a few. Of course many nations have been on protein-source diets which we may find unpalatable (such as dogs, considered a delicacy in some parts ofthe Far East.) Recently in the Mekong valley forests, another source of protein was discovered: a spider, the size of a dinner plate.
Going back to those long, cold winters, what were the food sources for Indigenous peoples? Of course there was meat preserved from the hunt, wild fowl, or smoked and dried fish from the oceans and rivers.
Any plant life that could be, was dried, or roots gathered or cultivated (like the primordial carrot which the English call “Queen Anne’s Lace”). There was great knowledge of berries, innocent and not-so-innocent plants, toxic and non-toxic, healing and medicinal ones, plus how to find much-treasured honey. There were smaller forms of Maize, and other earlier versions of what we know as corn, another staple of their diet.
Then of course we came along with our know-it-all attitude and began to ‘proselytize’ the Indigenous peoples, here and elsewhere, upsetting many a “corn” “apple” or whatever-cart, and in the process caused lots of cultural conflicts and irreparable damage.
Much of what we know today, we originally learned from the Indigenous peoples. But their practice of working the land was more what we’d call Horticulture, compared with our Agriculture. (Or Agribusiness.) Our agriculture exhausts the soil. Horticulture sustains it. That’s the big difference.
Tables are turning - - now at the rate we’re depleting our food supplies around the world, we are learning from Indigenous Elders about their vast knowledge of Nature.
So in the future instead of parents telling their children, “If you don’t eat your Brussel sprouts, you’ll get no plum pudding”, we may hear “If you don’t finish your steamed locusts, there’ll be no chocolate-dipped ants for you!”
Or our future gourmet meals may contain grubs, lizards, scorpions, beetles, locusts, worms and other protein-containing delicacies.
Bon appétit! Henri

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More Winter Tales

Posted by Kitara Julian On 9:24 AM 0 comments
“I don’t know if it was snowing for nine days when I was six, or six days when I was nine . . .”. Dylan Thomas’ “A Boy’s Christmas in Wales” always brings back memories.
I can relate to that, as I’m sure it does to many. Of course, my boyhood wasn’t in Wales, but the Lowlands. Les Pays Bas, die Nieder-landen, “Nether” lands, which included Flanders at one time in history.
Our home in the countryside had only one source of heating, actually two, but the big iron stove with a long metal pipe going to the chimney and heated with coal was only used to prepare meals. The other source was a small gas stove. We had no electricity.
Because heating sources were scarse, the bedrooms, bathroom and hall were very cold in wintertime.
The only advantage was when the ‘Great Designer of Winter’ created fairy-tale like, lace looking images on the windows. Here they call him Jack Frost.
My apologue (children’s story) “The Icy-Crystal See-Through No-Name Man” is all about this topic. You can read this and other stories at:
In my boyhood winters were often a lengthy affair, and if many frosts had gone over the ponds, moats and small waterways, we would skate. In order to learn this skill, we’d hold onto a chair, pushing it along the ice, for balance, like elderly folk use walkers today.
Our skates weren’t the state of the art models like today. They were made of wood, with a carved, curly front, all held together by leather straps. The early skates were made of animal bones.
When winter was very long, with many nights of frost, in Friesland the famous “Elfstedentocht” would be held. A gruelling, lengthy skating event covering the distance between eleven (“elf”) cities throughout the waterways of Friesland. That’s why the skaters from Holland always do so well in the Olympics and other international competitions.
And yes, in our childhood we made snow men and women, and enjoyed many snowball battles. Children will always be children, no?
Enjoy the hot cocoa. Signing off, Henri

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Snow in Victoria!

Posted by Kitara Julian On 4:31 PM 0 comments
Remember the song from South Pacific, “Hello Young Lovers, Wherever You Are, I now have a love of my own”? Well, wherever you are in the regular winter and snow zone, we also have snow of our own. Not just a flurry or two. A “white-out”.
No sooner did we complete a five-part series of blog posts on our Antarctica adventure, than pronto, we’re into snowflakes right here in Victoria. Not just a flurry or two but a good carpeting of these magic flakes. I say magic, because we’re told, that not one of these intricately-designed ‘visitors’ is alike.
This seems incredible, as we watch the early morning snow drift, leaving hardly any space between the flakes. To think each one is unique.
Then again, the magic and mystery of such phenomenon doesn’t remain with a snowflake, everything is unique - - - you, me and all that we see (and don’t see).
It’s interesting how a snowfall rekindles memories of yesteryear. Back in the Lowlands, as a child and until we were about five years old, in wintertime my father used to roll us in the snow in our birthday suits. Afterwards he’d rub us down with a large towel. I can still sense the glowing feeling of my body afterwards.
We know the Victoria snow will not last long, unless of course there’s another script in store for the days to come.
Whatever the case, from our perch here on the seventh floor we can see people tobogganing or kids having snowball fights, while we know that further Up Island, snow dolls appear like mushrooms.
We’re usually on the ocean at this time of year, either the South Pacific, Caribbean or Indian Ocean, so for us the snowfall is a pleasant surprise. Of course this isn’t our first experience of the white stuff. Sixteen winters in Toronto tell the tale. Plus five winters in Banff, Alberta.
Looking out our window, and being a visual person by nature, we observe it’s not “all white” out there. The colours of passing cars, the attire of passers-by walking on the path, and many Yuletide lights here in James Bay village all make their appearance. Proving again that colour speaks to us even when surrounded by all that white. Something I knew a long time ago, and make visible in my work.
White is the Mother of all Colours, although Goethe said, “Colour is decayed Light”. That’s all very well, but now in Victoria, where we’re carpeted by snow, all the colours sing! A la prochaine, Henri

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Buttercups Banished!

Posted by Kitara Julian On 4:59 PM 0 comments
For those of you who are familiar with my blog posts, you’ll be aware we seldom comment on politics or religion. Both subjects are not much to laugh about, but to quote George Bernard Shaw again, “If you’re going to tell people the Truth, make them laugh. Otherwise they’ll kill you.”
And since we still have much work to do on this Ocean-Earth planet, zooming through space, we thought it wise to stay away from those touchy topics.
However, on the political front, we cannot help but feel there may be a fresh breeze on its way. End of a big ‘error’, start of a new era?
Something caught my attention in our local newspaper, although mostly I read the comics. The headline was “DICTIONARY BANISHES BUTTERCUPS AND SAINTS – Academics protest limits on language”. Well, yours truly is far from what is termed an academic, but I agree with their protests.
It’s about the Oxford Junior Dictionary in England. They’ve dropped from their latest edition words such as “aisle”, “bishop”, “chapel”, “empire”, “monarch” and replaced them with words such as “blog”, “broadband”, and “celebrity”.
Dozens of words related to the countryside have also been culled, such as “sycamore”, and that’s where I get my fins (and mane) up, since “buttercup” was one of the words taken out.
This doesn’t do service to children, who need countryside more than ever. I’m sure they’re comfortable with “iPod”, “MP3 player”, “blog”, etc but no need to throw the baby out with the bath water.
But just (well, not just . . . 35 years ago), when I wrote a children’s story titled, “How The Buttercups Came Back”, the Oxford Junior Dictionary has the nerve to banish them! You can find this and other stories on my website at Signing off for now, Henri

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can imagine everyone giving directions at once to the Zodiac drivers, “Mine is the aluminum one”, “Ours if the one with the orange band around it”,Ours is the set of three Luis Vuitton”. And so it went.

Natasha and I just stood there, once again, wondering ‘Is this really happening?’ Yes, it was. Well, some luggage got lost, or put in the wrong cabin, but nobody’s perfect.

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

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

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

Disembarkation followed, then the re-embarkation of our “old gang” who’d been celebrating the Millennium in Santiago, Chile (see earlier post).

Oh yes, we returned once more to Antarctica, continuing OEI’s around-the-world itinerary, with the regular passengers. Again we crossed the Drake Passage, but did not return to Deception Island. Once again we witnessed the awesome beauty of many icebergs, and of course penguins galore.

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

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

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Antarctica comes from the Greek, “Ant” (opposite) and Arktos (Bear), referring to the Polar star of the Ursa Minor constellation. Antarctica = “No/or Little Bear”. The ancient Greeks didn’t know it, but there are no polar or any kind of bears in the Antarctic, so the name is all the more fitting.

Like we mentioned in the previous post, entering the portal of Neptune’s Bellows into the caldera of Deception Island required superb navigational skill. Plus, good luck and cooperation of the elements. Our Greek captain, who’d never sailed in Antarctic waters, performed an amazing feat that December 30, 1999, one day before Millennium Eve. The whole experience of entering the caldera remains imprinted in my memory chambers.

In preparation for the Zodiac landings ashore, all the passengers attended mandatory orientations where they learned all the “do’s and don’ts” while ashore. For instance, we were advised in a friendly but firm fashion by our onboard naturalist to keep a minimum distance of 5 metres (15 ft) from the penguins, of which we would be encountering myriads. Most of the ones there are Chinstraps. We were not allowed to approach the rookeries, but we’d witness many penguins as they went to and fro the icy waters in search of food.

The Zodiac crew were skilful and diligent. Many had been specially recruited. Amongst them, they had years of experience working in the Southern Ocean. December being high summer in the Antarctic, the sun just ‘goes’ for a few moments, giving lots of daylight for the dozens and dozens of Zodiac trips.

Shore Landings: because we were such a large number of people, a special system was devised, executed with nautical discipline. You had to be all suited-up and ready to go when your number was called. The Young Presidents Organization (YPO) passengers sported the latest fashion in cold-weather gear. Not to speak of state-of-the-art camera equipment.

“Only your footprints should be left behind”, we were warned by our naturalist guide. “And remember to keep your distance from the penguins!” We were told not to come too close, but nobody seemed to have told the penguins to keep their distance from humans!

Eagerly we stepped foot on the icy-shore. It was bitterly cold. Again, the guide said, “Don’t get too close, remember, 5 metres”. It’s all very well, but nobody seems to have told the penguins!

Penguins are very curious, but also protective of their young. Some immediately waddled over to us, as if we were family and wanting to say ‘Hi’ (and ‘stay away from my chicks’). The chicks had already lost most of their down. It’s some sight (and smell), to be in such close contact.

Penguins may waddle ashore, but once in the icy waters they “fly”. Those who return with food for the young are shiny and clean, while the ones heading out to sea are dirty, and smelly. So you have two “rows”, one going and one coming, crowded like a boulevard in a big city.

Skuas overhead are the penguins’ menace. They dive-bomb to snatch the chicks, and can also dive-bomb us humans: this I can personally vouch for! Our YPO passengers, who just a few days' ago left their sophisticated lifestyles back home, were now like children, full of awe and wonder while wandering amongst the penguins. When we returned to the Zodiac, a young girl pointed in the distance and shouted “Look, Daddy, a whale!” Our guide replied, “No, that’s the vents from the Hot Springs. Remember we’re inside a volcano.” Fire and ice! Coming soon, final episode of this Antarctic adventure. Signing off, Henri

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Continuing from Part One, our vessel “Ocean Explorer I” (OEI) had to be readied for the new international passengers from Young Presidents Organization (YPO) in a very short time. The crew worked in overdrive to meet the tight schedule.
Because of all the entertainment planned for the coming week, plus Millennium Eve, extra sound equipment and lighting was brought on board. So much so, an extra generator was required. In our view, making the sound levels at the various shows much too loud! OEI was slightly larger than one of the B.C. superferries; the main lounge held only 350 or so people.

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

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Antarctic Adventure, Part I

Posted by Kitara Julian On 2:19 PM 0 comments

With all the focus directed on ‘good old Santa’ readying himself up in the Arctic at the North Pole, we’re turning our compass to the South Pole and the Antarctic.
Although I’d travelled to the Southern Ocean region before, nothing compared to an extraordinary, 4-month long experience we had at the turn of the millennium which brought us to Antarctica for New Year’s Eve, 1999. Anyone who has the opportunity to visit this part of the world comes back with a ‘unique’ experience.
Ours began when an ambitious Canadian travel promoter, who’d run a company sending passengers to Antarctica for several years, decided to charter a larger ship for an around-the-world-voyage. I won’t give a play-by-play of our trip, that would cover 10 blog posts at least, but the ship in question was re-named “
Ocean Explorer I”, in short “OEI”. The voyage was a complete circumnavigation, lasting 127 days.
My role on board was Guest Artist & Lecturer, accompanied by Natasha, my indispensable assistant. The ship had a remarkable history. She was built during WWII as a troop transport carrier, the “General W.P. Richardson”. Very sturdy, she had an extra-thick, reinforced steel hull, and two engine rooms in the event one was torpedoed. She was a steamship, last of a breed. As a result, very quiet. Average speed on our journey was 15 knots.

Over the decades she had been owned by many different companies since she first took to the seven seas. But all along she had the same Chief Engineer, which accounted for her longevity. I won’t go into all the details about our departure from Athens, which was unbelievably chaotic to say the least. However we finally got underway, lifting anchor in Pireaus, Greece. It was 27 November, 1999, with some 680 passengers, most of whom were well-seasoned seniors, average age in the ‘70s.
All the officers were Greek.
The westbound itinerary called for several stops in remote ports-of-call such as Pitcairn Island, Easter Island, and of course the Antarctic. By the third week in December we approached Ushuaia at the tip of South America. There, a major logistical operation would occur: we’d completely “switch passengers”. Why? The Canadian operator had dreamt up a daring and ingenious “double-itinerary” to mark the Millennium. Those doing the full world cruise got off the ship for one week in Ushuaia and were flown to Santiago, the capital of Chile. There they celebrated the Millennium.
Meanwhile, a very small number of us stayed aboard the ship, and were joined by members of the Young Presidents Organization (YPO), businessmen and their families from all over the world. In addition to our ship “
OEI”, the operator had also chartered three smaller vessels to carry additional YPO passengers since their group numbered almost 1,000 in all.
With clockwork precision, this changeover went ahead without a hitch. We departed Ushuaia with the new passengers, who were much younger than the world cruise passengers.
Before arriving in Antarctica, you have to cross the notorious Drake Passage, one of the roughest bodies of water on the planet. And our crossing lived up to the Drake’s reputation, two and half days of pitching and rolling. We were headed for Deception Island (more on this later), where the actual Millennium Eve festivities would take place.
The entertainers on board for this Millennium sailing were Diana Krall, the Chieftains, Dan Aykroyd, Art Garfunkel, the Moffats, Natalie MacMaster, along with guest speakers Robert Kennedy Jr. and F.W. DeKlerck who won the Nobel Peace Prize with Nelson Mandela. To be continued . . . Signing off for now, Henri

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The Joy of Imagination

Posted by Kitara Julian On 10:23 AM 0 comments
Good to receive comments and questions. Some, like those related to politics or religion, we leave best alone. Others, like this note from Saskatchewan, gets my attention because it deals with a subject very dear to me and may be of interest to you.
“Sir, we have two grandchildren. Tina’s in kindergarten, Tommy in first year elementary school. Like most children, they paint pictures at school and at home. When Tina paints something, we can almost always tell what it is. But Tommy’s pictures we cannot make head nor tail of. Last week the teacher asked them to make a Holiday Season picture.
Tommy splashed bright colours all over the page, and when we asked him “What’s that, Tommy?”, he replied, as if it was perfectly obvious, “That’s a Christmas tree with lots of presents under it.” (And anyone who doesn’t see it, is really dumb, as far as he’s concerned!)
His teacher seems to think his pictures are wonderful. But, is it not the teacher’s job to guide and teach pupils the foundation and beginnings? To us, Tommy’s pictures look like the dabs of a monkey, or like those pictures we see in modern galleries, and which are very pricey at that. Do you agree, sir, that school should discourage children from just splashing paint around?”

First, let me say my respects go to the teacher, for letting Tommy’s imagination roam freely. Too soon in our childhood we lose that precious gem of Imagination.
In the process of growing up, there are already many things a child has to learn and requires discipline. But at the young age of Tina and Tommy, freedom (and encouragement) to express themselves is vital. What I look for in children’s art is the colours a child uses.
In most cases, bright and joyful colours reflect a happy child. The realm of art embraces not only technical skill, but colour and imagination. Later, the required skills to learn will come, if a boy or girl wants to later pursue art. Children are children. Imagination is their world. Foundation and guidance comes later.As adults, some very mature artists express themselves through what’s called nowadays their “Inner Child”.
Many fine abstract artists do not paint non-objective art because they cannot draw, just like a pilot does not fly because he or she can’t walk. Good examples of this child-like quality in mature artists can be seen in works by Marc Chagall, Paul Klee, Joan Miro, and Karel Appel, just to name a few.

This reminds me of an experience I had back in 1959 while visiting for awhile at the home of a friend’s parents. TIME Magazine featured a full-colour reproduction of a painting by the young Karel Appel, a post-war artist from Amsterdam. The painting, titled “Woman and Ostrich”, won the coveted $10,000 Guggenheim Award in NY City. During my visit, my friend’s parents spent the whole evening looking for both the woman and the ostrich, to no avail . . Signing off, Henri

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