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23rd Jun, 2008


Last week

We are in the final homestretch of our year in Sheffield. Tuesday a week ago, Naomi had her Associated Board Music Exam in Oboe, (level 5 out of 8). She did an excellent job in all areas, including sight-reading, which was a steep learning curve for her. Naomi basically moved from a level 2 playing ability to a level 5 in one year. This is due to the strong foundation the previous teacher laid, but mostly to the amazing teaching of her oboe teacher here -- Hazel. How we will miss Hazel. And today, Miriam played a recital to a small audience to mark the end of her studies with the Milsom Studio. She played the whole Beethoven Sonata (No. 1) very elegantly. She also played the first movement of the Elgar Sonata which is full of English Romantic power!

Last week there were parties at Broomhall Centre and at the Women's Conversation Club in honour of Suzanne. Robert's MKP group went out in honour of Robert's involvement with the Sheffield group. Robert and his colleague/collaborator at the University went out to dinner as well.

Friday night, Chriss and Gord took all of us to a production of a farce, "Charley's Aunt" at the Botanical Gardens up the road from our house. We had an elegant picnic on the lawn with table, chairs, champagne and delectable salads from Waitrose, the posh grocery store! The farce was fun to watch and well done. As usual, Suzanne showed her true Swiss colours when she was the last to notice that two of the characters were being played by the same person!

On Saturday, the long-awaited day Quaker Youth outing to Liverpool finally came. We gathered at 7:30 to catch the 7:40 train to Liverpool. It was a characteristically wet English day with light rain and atmospheric mist -- perfect for a ferry ride on the River Mersey along the long Liverpool waterfront.

We then went to the Walker Art Gallery to see the special exhibit of trains in paintings. Manet, Monet, Hopper and other late 19th and 20th century artists expressed the imposing steam engines and the atmospheric train stations with puffs of smoke hanging in the air. Jan Gleysteen would have been in heaven seeing this exhibit, with his interest in trains.

After lunch, we hopped on a bus to find a national trust grounds that organized indoor tours of the houses of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Miriam was beside herself with excitement, seeing where John and Paul rehearsed in both houses, and learning more about the sort of upbringing especially John had with his Aunt Mimi. John was definitely not working class! But his Aunt Mimi had a rough time keeping the house that represented for her the status she wanted to maintain. When her husband died suddenly, she decided to increase the number of student boarders to four. So John grew up in a house full of student boarders, him, and his Aunt Mimi.

Paul's house was a bit more homey by comparison. In part because of Michael McCartney's photographs (Michael being Paul's younger brother), you got a sense of the McCartney's family life, which would have been a bit more informal with freedoms John would not have had in his tightly run household.

This week promises a seaside outing for Miriam with a friend from her Irish music group, a dinner invitation on Tuesday, a trip to London on Thursday to see "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at the Globe Theatre, a day to finish packing and cleaning, a day to celebrate the 75th anniversary of High Storrs School, where Vivaldi's Gloria will be performed one more time, and where Miriam will perform with her Irish group as well. Sunday will be our final good-byes to our wonderful friends and Friends at the Sheffield Quaker Meeting. On Monday, we will catch the 7:10 to Manchester Airport, check in and hopefully have an event-less trip to O'Hare, through O'Hare, and on to Edmonton!!! Suzanne's parents will meet us at O'Hare to help us pass the time between 2:00 and 8:00 PM.

12th Jun, 2008


Quaker membership

On Saturday, 7 June 2008, I (Robert) was received into membership in the Religious Society of Friends, Sheffield and Balby Monthly Meeting. Apart from advances in my research, this is the big thing that I will be taking back with me when we leave Sheffield -- this membership, an outward sign of the profound influence Sheffield Friends have had on me this past year. It makes saying goodbye a little easier, to know that I'm taking something of them in my heart back to Edmonton. I look forward to starting the next chapter of my life back in Edmonton, as a convinced Quaker.

3rd Jun, 2008



For our last half term break, we chose to spend a week in Western Ireland. We landed in Shannon, picked up our hired car and drove the slow route to our destination of Doolin, a little village along the coast between Shannon and Galway. Robert was eager to "take up the challenge" of driving on the left, and navigating the roundabouts. The former went quite well. Our car had reminders posted everywhere to drive on the left! Roundabouts were still daunting but except for our encounters with larger cities, we didn't have to worry much about roundabouts.

Our cottage was a little further outside of Doolin than we would have liked, but the view was beautiful. We had a field of wild grass full of flowers -- we even picked a bouquet! And we had a short drive into Doolin where we would park our car and wander off. The first night we wandered along the cliffs and enjoyed the spongy grass, the early summer flowers, the cows, and the ocean view. There were also dolphins jumping in the water; combining this with the sunset reflecting off them: it was amazing! Then we had a nice pub meal followed by our first evening of music. Doolin is famous for having music in every pub every night. We started off with the O'Connor pub and heard a violin and flute duo. The flute played in the same octave as the violin, and there was mostly perfect unison between these two guys -- lads.

We took in two more music nights -- both in competition with "Britain's got Talent" on TV. But we preferred the Irish Talent in Doolin (everyone except Naomi)! We went to McDermott's Pub and enjoyed a three-person band that played five instruments between them plus singing. One guy started off on the violin, switched to the banjo, and then played the guitar when they noticed another local singer in the crowd who joined for two songs. There was also a bouzouki player. The bodhran player also sang a few numbers (Miriam adds he was really cool!) It was brilliant! They were all fine musicians and clearly enjoyed including musicians they knew who happened in. The next night, we heard an amazing fiddler who would start at a normal tempo, and on several occasions, would start speeding up, stop suddenly to give the percussionists a chance to shine, come back in, rev it up to an almost impossible speed and conclude with a big whoosh! It was exhilarating to watch (Naomi adds that she had nice hair).

On Tuesday, we went on a guided 4-hour walk through the Burrens. The Burrens are an area of very rocky mountains along he coast leading up to Galway bay. The mountains used to be forested but the trees were cut down over the years (from the Stone Age up until recently) to the point of being barren. But the stone walls and fortified walls (single walls to delineate grazing areas, double walls for what used to be homesteads, or possibly forts of the Fir Bolg) remain, and the little grass that pops up in between the limestone is used by cattle during the winter, since the limestone holds the heat from the sun. Our guide pointed out all of the botanical and geological intricacies of this region and also pointed to the small trees that are finally coming back. He predicts that by the time Naomi is claiming her pension, it will be covered with bushes, and next trees, and from there, the area will start to look more like it did before humans came and cleared the land of trees leaving exposed limestone everywhere.

Our guide was a cattle farmer who also had a bottomless pit of knowledge on this area. Ireland has a relatively few species of plant life, and very few dangerous animals. The things to fear in Ireland, according to him, are the bulls in the field and the woman driver! Otherwise, not much to fear -- no poisonous plants, no snakes (obviously), no more wolves...

On Wednesday, we left Miriam behind to study for her history and Theatre Studies exams and went to a very touristy spot near Limerick -- Bunratty Castle. It was really a castle/palace. It had four towers with the characteristic winding and narrow staircases going up with bedrooms, "garderobes" (i.e. toilets) a dungeon, and large halls for large gatherings. Admiral Penn, William Penn's father, apparently visited there. The grounds around it are a replica of village life with thatched roof houses, small cottages, and a larger cottage where a woman was making soda bread. Their gift shop had really beautiful wool tweed hats -- something Miriam has always wanted so we surprised her with one upon our return to Doolin.

On Thursday, we took a ferry to the largest of the Aran Islands, rented bicycles, and rode around this beautiful island all day. We found the fort a bit too late and were not able to take that in AND get back to our ferry on time, so we saw it from a distance. We also saw what is reputed as being the "smallest church" in the world. It was built in the 11th century and was probably dedicated to Saint Benignus, a disciple and successor of St. Patrick. According to one web-site, "it was probably the oratory of a hermit or a sacred place where the relics of Saint Benignus were conserved." We also stopped along the coast near some ships off-shore to enjoy the nice clean and sheltered ocean waters.

On Friday, Miriam and Naomi opted to recover from our exertion the day before (Miriam would definitely like to add that she was WORKING [studying] while Naomi was just sitting around... apparently reading...) Robert and Suzanne walked on the Burren Way up to the Cliffs of Moher. The weather was a bit indecisive that day. While at the cliffs, it was misty, slightly rainy conditions. On the way back, the sun came out and it became downright muggy! We passed the ruins of what used to be a stone farmhouse. Such farmhouses have been replaced by beautiful new cottages that dot the mountains overlooking the coast. Ireland has clearly had an economic comeback with well-built and well-kept housing possibly for weekend getaways from the cities of Limerick and Galway. Cattle farming is still one source of livelihood, but the technology industry is responsible for Ireland's recent boom. We found Ireland to be a clean and well-kept place with comparatively little evidence of economic classes. We saw no extremes of wealth and no poverty. Also, compared to the UK, Ireland has completely joined the European Union, but works equally hard to keep the people involved in decisions such as the Lisbon treaty that is being ratified across Europe. There is no mention of it in the UK because it is being handled by parliament. But in Ireland, such treaties must be voted on in a referendum, and so there were posters everywhere arguing for yes or no on this referendum.

We spent our last day travelling to Galway and touring Connemara by car. We stopped first in Galway City to see the market, the Spanish Arch, and St. Nicholas Church, a Byzantine looking church built beginning in 1957. We enjoyed the pace in Galway -- pleasant, but not stressed! It is a modern small city of c. 70,000 -- one of the biggest cities after Dublin. It even has a Tim Horton's!!! Ireland indeed has a very small population. After four days along the coast, Galway felt like a bustling city, at least driving through it! From there, we went on a drive through Connemara with our destination being a visit to a little cottage owned by Ireland's famous revolutionary, Patrick Pearse. This was his summer home, where he developed his educational materials to encourage Ireland to celebrate its heritage and language. Somehow, he even started a Gaelic school in the Dublin area, before the British finally left. The British burned down his summer cottage, but the locals built it back up again in homage to his leadership. Connemara is full of lakes and had a different look than the burrens. It has been Miriam's wish to visit Connemara -- in part because it is Peter O'Toole's birthplace, and in part because it is really really lovely and beautiful! (Mom.....). She is pictured beaming with Connemara in the background!

We returned to greater Galway to visit our friend Brendan and his wife Brooke. Brendan was attending the University of Maryland when Robert and Suzanne were there and was instrumental in starting up the El Salvador Coalition to protest the war and support the people of El Salvador in their efforts to reform the distribution of land and other resources in a more equitable way. Brendan and Brooke live in a lovely home overlooking the Galway Bay. It felt wonderful to reconnect with Brendan and to meet Brooke, who is from Pennsylvania. The conversation could have gone on all night, but we wanted a bit of evening light to drive home by for at least part of the way back to Doolin.

Now, our final month in Sheffield has begun. Miriam is sitting her last two exams this week. We have mixed feelings about leaving behind all the good friends we have made, but are eager to return to our home in Edmonton.

12th May, 2008


April Showers bring May Flowers -- and Guests!!

The end of April and May have been our time for hosting guests from North America. The first arrival was Kelsey, a friend of Miriam's from her school in Edmonton. Kelsey and Miriam explored Sheffield, Chatsworth House and Castleton in the Peak District, Manchester, Liverpool and York all on their own. Shopping seemed to be the preferred activity for Kelsey, with cute stores unique to this part of the world. Kelsey had the camera, so unfortunately there are no pictures.
The next arrival was Naomi's friend Jane and her family, also from Edmonton. Naomi joined Jane, Kevin and Alison in Manchester. They proceeded to Liverpool and on to London by train. Highlights of Liverpool included the Beatle's Story and an amphibious boat/bus ride. In London, they took in "King Lear" at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. A ride in the London Eye also left an impression., as did trying unsuccessfully to get a palace guard to smile!
The next stop was Rye, with travel shifting to a rental car. Rye was a perfectly kept walled town south of London. Naomi and Jane enjoyed wandering around by themselves. They also stayed in an awesome five-star hotel called the Jeake’s House Hotel. From there, their route took them to Stonehenge, and Oxford where they did some rowing. After Oxford, Jane spent four days in Sheffield with Naomi, where she went to school for a day, explored downtown Sheffield, and went to Chatsworth House, a large Baroque Estate house in the Peak District with Classical and Victorian grounds. A cascade of water was built during the Classical era. The girls "sat down" in it for a picture. Imagine that -- they got wet! But the bright sunny and warm day allowed them to mostly dry off before the ride home especially when they took a break in the sun to make daisy chains.. During the Victorian era a gazillion large boulders were brought in which were reassembled using steam powered engines to resemble the haphazardness of nature. They were amazing engineers, those Victorians! There was also a maze grown in what used to be a very large plant conservatory built by Joseph Paxton, who is better known for having built the Crystal Palace in London. Finding one's way to the middle of the maze was not terribly obvious -- but possible, as it turns out! The girl's favourite fountain was the "Squirting Willow," a metal tree that squirted water
Overlapping with Jane was the visit from Robert's mother Elaine -- Grandma to the girls. This explains her appearance in the pictures from Chatsworth House. She was also along when we joined up with Jane's parents in York for Jane's last day in the UK. We had a wonderful bus tour of the city, followed by walks through the picturesque streets of old Medieval York, including the Shambles and the College Plaza. (You can refer to pictures from our previous visit.) Robert and Elaine took a tour of the amazingly large York Minster -- apparently the largest cathedral north of the Alps.
On Saturday, we took it easy and went to our local Botanical gardens to join many other Sheffielders taking in the sunshine.

7th Apr, 2008


Spring Break in Amsterdam and Provence

After a harrowing train ride from Liverpool to Sheffield that took 5 hours because of a disabled train which caused countless delays, we finally got back to our little flat in Sheffield at 12:47 AM. We returned with wonderful memories, however.

We arrived in Amsterdam and found our way to our friend Gerry's (pronounce heddi) house 20 minutes outside of Amsterdam in a little town called Santpoort Zuid. Gerry and her sister Erika intuited our arrival and met us near the train station. We had a lovely visit with these two sisters who are also sisters of Jan (pronounce yan) Gleysteen (pronounce hleyshteen). Suzanne had been in Gerry's house before as a child for the 1967 Mennonite World Conference.

Our first day in Holland began with a typical Dutch breakfast of bread, cheese, and hagelschlag (pronounced hahilshla) -- chocolate hail (sprinkles but actual chocolate). We also tried appelstroop (pronounced apple shtroap) which is a cross between apple butter and treacle (somewhat jellyish)! The weather was cold (not too cold)-- in fact it snowed that day. We ducked into a wonderful little coffee shop in Jordaan (pronounce yordan accenting the a), the trendy part of Amsterdam, on our way to the Anne Frank house (I (Naomi) got a book out of it, it was good because if I didn't have a book I would have run out of books after reading 2 other books: Inkspell the sequel to Inkheart and No Shame, No Fear, a Quaker book about when the Quakers were persecuted; both I would recommend) . We were let in just as it was getting particularly nasty weather-wise. After reminders of Holland's sobering recent history -- specifically a reduction of the Jewish population from 140,000 to 20,000, we went on to find the Singel Kerk -- the Doobsgesind (pronounce dopskesint) Mennonite church that is situated on the Singel canal. We had learned that there was to be an informal violin, voice and piano recital. We were treated to the Frank Sonata (first movement), a set of Rachmaninov lieder, and a polonaise by Scriabin. The performers were three friends who perform together, and who also teach at the conservatory (the singer looked Italian and sang very operatically). The church is one of the hidden churches of Amsterdam -- from the front it looks like a house, but once inside, it is a large sanctuary for what today is a smallish congregation. Gerry attends there most weeks.

As we walked, we crossed one canal after the other, saw beautiful gables, and oodles of bicycles. Many were simply locked to themselves using a very large chain lock. (There are so many bicycles that there are not enough places to lock them to something.) Another interesting anecdote: As more people were driving cars in the 1960s, there evolved a problem of cars driving off the little roads into the canals. The city decided therefore to put tons of Guilders into building small rails to prevent cars from rolling off into the canals. Even today, however, at least one car falls into one canal or another every week.

From there, we found our way to the Van Gogh museum, which is a real feast for the eyes. Not all of the famous Van Goghs were there, but enough to give us a sense of his artistic evolution. A few days later, we were in Provence visiting the psychiatric hospital Van Gogh checked himself into for awhile, and saw the grounds including a flowering tree that may have inspired Van Gogh's welcome painting for his nephew (see picture of flowering tree).

The next day in Holland, Gerry drove us all over the countryside, first along the North Sea, then to see a very interesting museum that explains how the polders were drained to make up 25% of the land in Holland, the most populated area of the Netherlands. The museum is actually one of four steam pumps built in the 19th century with the help of English (Cornwall) technology. One hundred and sixty three windmills would have been necessary to pump the amount of water these four steam engines pumped over a 2 1/2 year period. Now, only three are necessary to manage the water. These have since been converted from steam to some other form of energy, leaving the fourth as an example of how these worked originally. A friendly curator started up the pump and we were able to see it in action. The water was pumped into a nearby canal that was 6 metre higher than the polder, and the whisked into the North sea. The curator did not seem particularly concerned with rising sea levels -- the Dutch have been managing their water for centuries. They will continue to adapt and maintain. Interestingly, they are returning some of the reclaimed land back to the sea -- for purposes of balancing salt and fresh water bodies.

We then went to see the windmills. The windmills were set up for tourists, and so we had our fill of clogs and cheese, as well as an interesting opportunity to see the innner workings of a peanut oil mill.

Our drive home took us through lovely countryside, glimpses of which we saw the next day at the Reijks Museum, with all the landscape and portrait paintings of the wonderful Dutch painters like Rembrandt, Steen, and Vermeer.

We took a canal boat ride, which was a nice way to see Amsterdam, but not terribly photogenic because of the window reflection. We spent most of our time on the Gentleman's Canal seeing expensive real estate with double staircases and lovely gables, the narrowest bridge and canal, the seven canals, the twin sisters. Amsterdam is full of lore in this regard.

Following this tour, we sought out the Begijnhof which is a quiet courtyard in Amsterdam. This one dates back to 1389 and in fact has a wooden house -- one that did not get swallowed up in the many fires that took most of the others. The inhabitants were, and still are women only. Originally, it was a lay Catholic community of women who took care of the elderly and the sick. There is a hidden Catholic church, as well as a church given to the Scottish Church in 1607. Queen Elizabeth II visited the "English Reformed" church recently. Today, the women residents have jobs in all professions, and are not necessarily committing themselves to a spiritual vocation. However, the old wooden house still serves a social function. It is a reference place for homeless people. None are housed here, but they are given information on where to go.

Our last day in Amsterdam was spent seeing an exhibit on Greek culture as excavated in Afghanistan. A well-made documentary explained where in Afghanistan the excavating took place. In exchange for the support the French archaelogists receive from the Afghanis, a school has been built by the French for boys and girls, and uses the site to teach about the history of the region. We also learned of what the Taliban did to the historic collection in Kabul during their reign. Thankfully, many of the pieces were saved in a hidden vault that had seven locks distributed among seven different people according to tradition. The Taliban almost found the vault, but were not able to destroy the contents as they did the contents that were left in the museum. Much of today's work is reassembling the broken pieces of statues that merge Buddhism and Greek proportions and poses.

We also wandered through Jordaan one more time and found a delightful cafe along the "Gentlemen's" Canal.

We arrived in Nice to be met by Suzanne's Oncle Jean. He drove us the 2 1/2 hours to Lourmarin, a village in the Luberon of Provence. It was magical to arrive in this very quiet medieval village at 11:30 at night. We went straight to bed and decided Miriam would have the initial honour of opening up the shutters the next morning. What a glorious day that was. We strolled through the town of Lourmarin and took countless pictures -- a photogenic little town wherever you look. We stayed at a Bed and Breakfast called La Cordiere and were warmly received by Francoise and her son Emanuel, as well as Oncle Jean who helps out with breakfast and hosting guests by orienting them to the area.

That afternoon, we accompanied Oncle Jean and a family from South Africa who is interested in buying a few hectares of land to move from South Africa along with their three children and five horses. We stopped in a very touristy and picturesque village of Baux. We were dropped off in St. Remy, where Van Gogh spent some time. The landscapes were familiar from our time in the Van Gogh museum. Artists by this time had discovered the wonderful views and lighting of Provence.

The following day, we went to Rousillon, Gordes and Vaison la Romaine. Rousillon is this amazingly pretty village where the stone houses are reddish because of the ochre mines in the area. This mineral was foundational to dyes. We then moved on to Gordes which is clearly a moneyed village. It apparently was the retreat get-away for popes while they were in Avignon. It has a castle right in the middle of the village. Many of these villages had castles, as well as one or two churches. The Protestants have left their mark on some villlages. Lourmarin, for example, has a Protestant Temple as well as a Catholic Church. In Gourdes, we gawked at the Baroque church interior, and had a delicious lunch of salmon "hamburger" -- salmon between two delicately fried potato pancakes. We toasted to Irene, who had left money for just such an occasion when she was in Geneva in February!

Miriam had seen a coffee table book of Provence at age 10 and had decided that she would like to retire in Vaison la Romaine. When Oncle Jean learned of this, he changed his itinerary and took us to Vaison la Romaine. This is an interesting town made famous in recent years by the fact that there was serious flooding that caused much damage in the new part of town. The old medieval town is up on a hill looking up to the castle at the top. It is an amazing perfect little medieval village, but the life of the town is in the new part on the other side of the river. Miriam decided it was a bit too perfect for retirement property. She will opt instead for the little house with red shutters just outside of Lourmarin.

We came back in time to catch the tail end of a concert put on by a lycee from the area. Two Lourmarin students attend there and because of this, the music groups were invited to perform in the local Protestant Temple. We walked in on a wonderful double bass, accordion and flute trio. There was also a violin quartet that played some jazzy piece. There was also a choir that sang in various styles. The final encore was a work in progress -- Besa me mucho! We were impressed by how well they were prepared as well as the variety of musical styles and the inclusion of so many different talents. The director seemed like a really wonderful guy!

On the itinerary for the following day was a bike ride in the countryside. The weather did not cooperate, however. It rained and rained, so we went to the city of Aix and saw the wealth of a larger city in Provence with tributes to its past including a fountain with "good king" Rene holding the Muscat grapes that he introduced to Provence in the fifteenth century. Further down, we saw a natural hot water fountain covered in moss that dates back to Roman times. We made a special point to see the Place d'Albertas (being from Alberta and all!) It is a place with beautiful Parisian style built by Georges Vallon for the Marquis d'Albertas.

Later, we walked up the hill to what used to be outside the city, to Paul Cezanne's atelier. Again, having seen villages like Roussilon allowed us to enter into Cezanne's landscape paintings so much more. In his atelier, we saw many of the objects of the still lifes, including fruit at various stages of freshness! (Cezanne apparently took so long to paint his paintings that fruit tended to begin rotting.)A charming cat was trying to get in out of the rain. We finished our visit in Aix with a Chocolat Chaud to warm us up, and a Pastis to taste a typical drink for a hot summer day.

Oncle Jean took us back to Nice (if you ever come to this area, go through Marseilles -- it is much closer) for us to catch our plane back to Liverpool. Just when we thought our trip was about over, our English hosts showed their true organizational colours when handling a disabled train. One passenger also going to Sheffield commented how third world the train system can be -- worse than India! Apparently it does not help that each train company has its own technicians, etc. Many travelers waited first seventeen, then 27, then 40 then lost track as each time the announcement appologised politely for the inconvenience. It felt as if it would never end.

Thank you, Gerry, Erika, Oncle Jean, Francoise and Emanuel for your warm welcome and generous hosting! We had a wonderful time.

26th Mar, 2008


Palestine: a public confession

Suzanne and the girls are in Amsterdam and then Provence this week, and I'm supposed to be with them. Except I've had a persistent flu, and I didn't feel up to travelling when they left; plus I felt uncomfortable about dropping my research for over a week. We decided they would go and I would stay, which leaves me here in Sheffield.
* * *
I recently heard a talk here at the University by Ilan Pappe, an Israeli historian (now at University of Exeter) on the current plight of Palestinians in Gaza. I bought a copy of his book, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, which documents the 1948 violence from which the state of Israel emerged. My understanding of Israel and the Palestinians has changed dramatically in past 25 years, and I feel the need at this point to say something about it, a public confession, if you will.

In my young adulthood, I went through a number of years in a charismatic Christian church which became increasingly cultish and authoritarian as time went on. I was an enthusiastic, active member in this congregation until levels of guilt became unmanageable for me. Looking back, I am chagrined by the gullibility, the dogmatism, and the acquiescence to manipulation, that I displayed in those years. But the thing I am now most ashamed of is the ardent Christian Zionism. Like many fundamentalist evangelicals, I combined the worst bits of the Old Testament (Joshua's genocidal conquest of Canaan) with apocalyptic prophecy, and fear and hatred of Islam, to arrive at the belief that the state of Israel was specially ordained by God Himself, and the Palestinians were just an obstacle to God's purposes. To this I added a bit of confusion about my own identity, wanting to harmonise my Jewish cultural affiliations with my Christianity, to be accepted as both Jewish and Christian. In my church I diligently prayed for Israel -- thanking God for the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq war: He had made the enemies of Israel "furiously rage together". I had no sense at all of the massive killing and suffering that war brought to the region. At University I joined the "Hopkins Israel Action Committee": we put together a foaming-at-the-mouth little monthly newsletter/propaganda screed, defensively justifying everything Israel did or might conceivably do, and protested against Palestinian speakers on campus. I went into law school with the vague goal of somehow using my legal skills to facilitate American-Israeli trade, maybe even pave the way for Christian Zionist settlement in Israel.

That was me. I was a Zionist fascist -- ineffectual, thank goodness. Nevertheless, I have to face up to what I was.

At age 24, I left that church and belief system, as I said, because I couldn't cope with the constant sense of personal guilt that it gave me. My political beliefs drifted leftward, particularly after meeting my wife Suzanne, considering her Mennonite pacifism, and getting involved together in Central American solidarity work. But for quite a while, I still wanted to hold onto some liberal form of Zionism. After all, the American left were gaga over Israel at least up till 1967. Pete Seeger singing Tzena Tzena. What about those idealistic socialist kibbutzniks, who lived in egalitarian communes and made roses bloom in the desert? Was there no honorable legacy to Zionism at all?

Ilan Pappe puts the last nail in that coffin. Already in the 1920's, the leaders of the Zionist movement -- David Ben-Gurion, Chaim Weizmann, all the Zionist heroes, were discussing plans to forcibly expel Palestinian communities from the parts they wanted and thought they could hold on to. (The mentality is perhaps not surprising, given that the British were doing precisely the same thing to natives in, for example, Kenya, at the time. Even the socialist kibbutzniks, by and large, assumed the colonialist prerogatives of Europeans when it came to relations with the Palestinians.) By 1948, the leaders decided, in secret consultation with King Abdullah of Jordan, that about 80% of Palestine would do. In 1967, they took the rest.

There is a myth that Palestinians left their villages in 1948 voluntarily, at the behest of the Arab armies, who said, "We will drive the Jews into the sea, and then you can return to your villages." As Pappe documents, the Haganah (Israeli militia) through the spring and summer of 1948 systematically went through Palestinian villages, or neighbourhoods within cities, in many cases summarily executing men whose names appeared on their blacklist, in other cases going on uncontrolled killing (and raping) sprees in revenge for casualties suffered elsewhere. Yigael Yadin, the famous Israeli archaeologist, was personally in charge of planning this ethnic cleansing campaign, "Plan Dalet". Deir Yassin is the most well known massacre, but there were many others. The villagers were generally ordered out immediately, allowed to take nothing but the clothes on their back. Women's jewellery was stripped off them. The similarity to German SS treatment is eerie. The houses were looted, then burned or dynamited, and mines were generally laid to deter them from trying to return. The villagers were driven over the border into Lebanon, the West Bank, or in some cases to other villages which had been allowed to remain. In Haifa, it was the Palestinians who were driven into the sea: a crowd forced out of the Palestinian neighbourhoods gathered by the harbour, hoping for a ship to evacuate them, when the Haganah began shelling them. Many tried to flee by piling into small boats, which sank, and they drowned.

While Ben-Gurion postured for western opinion, warning that the Jews faced a "second holocaust" -- David surrounded by an Arab Goliath -- internal political and military documents now show that the Haganah was never in any serious doubt of winning. The armies of Jordan and Egypt entered the war late, half-heartedly at most, because there was political pressure to do something, or appear to do something, to stem the tide of Palestinian refugees.

You know the "plant a tree in Israel" Jewish National Fund campaign? What that largely meant, on the ground, Pappe shows, was planting pine forests to cover the ruins of Palestinian villages.

And it goes on to this day. As people die daily in Gaza for lack of water, lack of medical supplies. As the Israeli army shells houses with children in them. And once, I would have thought this was a good thing. The horror.

The mourner's Kaddish:

Yitgadal v'yitkadash sh'mei raba b'alma di-v'ra
chirutei, v'yamlich malchutei b'chayeichon
uvyomeichon uvchayei d'chol beit yisrael, ba'agala
uvizman kariv, v'im'ru: "amen."
Y'hei sh'mei raba m'varach l'alam ul'almei almaya.
Yitbarach v'yishtabach, v'yitpa'ar v'yitromam
v'yitnaseh, v'yithadar v'yit'aleh v'yit'halal sh'mei
d'kud'sha, b'rich hu,
l'eila min-kol-birchata v'shirata, tushb'chata
v'nechemata da'amiran b'alma, v'im'ru: "amen."
Y'hei shlama raba min-sh'maya v'chayim aleinu
v'al-kol-yisrael, v'im'ru: "amen."
Oseh shalom bimromav, hu ya'aseh shalom aleinu
v'al kol-yisrael, v'imru: "amen."

Glorified and sanctified be God's great name throughout the world
which He has created according to His will.
May He establish His kingdom in your lifetime and during your days,
and within the life of the entire House of Israel, speedily and soon;
and say, Amen.
May His great name be blessed forever and to all eternity.
Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted, extolled and honored,
adored and lauded be the name of the Holy One, blessed be He,
beyond all the blessings and hymns, praises and consolations that
are ever spoken in the world; and say, Amen.
May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us
and for all Israel; and say, Amen.
He who creates peace in His celestial heights,
may He create peace for us and for all Israel;
and say, Amen.

17th Mar, 2008


Local Rambles, Conferences in York and Leeds, and musical performances

You may remember the walk Naomi and Suzanne took with Gordon and his dog Zelly back in December. Our chatting together inspired Gordon to organize monthly walks for Quakers and any other interested hikers. As he has no car, he decided to focus on walks that could be gotten to by public transportation.

Our first one was in January. Robert and Suzanne went on the canal walk, heading over to Meadowhall ( our local West Edmonton Mall), and then following the seven weirs. Many of the Sheffield steel works were built around the canal. The canals were finished only ten years before the rail system was built. The rail system took over much of what the canals were built for -- transport of goods. Apparently Tesco, a British grocery chain, is again using the barges to transport non-perishable goods. The 12 locks mean slow going for much of the canal route. On this walk, we saw some of the filming sites for the Full Monty, including the canal where the car is slowly going under. In reality, it would have been impossible for anyone to have driven the car into the canal. Rather, a crane likely lowered it in from the bridge!

On March 15, Miriam and Suzanne joined Gordon and Zelly and four other Quakers to do a more woodsy walk in the Oughtibridge area outside of Sheffield. We took the supertram to the end of the line and proceeded with our seven-mile walk up to a ridge, through woodlands, and back to town. Before going off on the footpath, we saw evidence of the incredible storm and flooding of last June. A whole chunk of road was knocked off as the river rose to such heights and the waters came careening down the hill onto the road on a bend in the river.

The idea was that we would have a fantastic view of Sheffield. Unfortunately, we saw -- and felt -- very atmospheric fog and mist. The good conversation and the quietness of the woods in the fog was still a wonderful experience. We concluded our walk with tea and malt extract cake at the home of two of the walkers who live in Oughtibridge.

Last Saturday, Suzanne went to a conference in York put on by the Refugee Council, which is an agency funded by the government to deliver services to refugees. The attenders were members and leaders of local refugee committees, such as the clubs Suzanne volunteers in. Most were African, and thus belonged to a category here called Black Ethnic Minorities. The facilitator was an American from Wisconsin. It took Suzanne a few minutes to realize he talked like her -- a sign of acculturation? Suzanne had some very interesting conversations with people from community groups that struggle to get the help they need to bid for funding for their projects. One of the problems can be internal unity, which must precede any sort of coherent proposal. But there is clearly a need for more support for these groups. The Refugee Council has recently gotten funding to provide support for at least some of the groups. The struggles reminded Suzanne of the stories she has heard from EMCN and the community group organizers. One interesting project was opening a coffee shop right next to a Refugee Council office in order to give immigrants an alternative to the local pub, where they are often not welcome, or where the drinks and food are not familiar or comfortable.

On Monday, there was a women's conference in Leeds, also aimed at empowering community groups -- but this time strictly women's groups. It was planned close to International Women's Day. Unfortunately, with gale like wind conditions, only half of the registered women showed up. Whereas the Saturday conference seemed to have a lot of Congolese, Angolan and Kurdish representatives, the women's conference featured the Caribbean communities that have been established since the 1950s, but are still in the "Black Ethnic Community" category, which suggests they have not been accepted even as "mainstream minority." It seems that educationally and professionally, the Black Ethnic Minorities are at a disadvantage here -- just like in North America.

Robert's conference activites will happen in April in Chicago and in May in Manchester. He continues to expand his research in order to put forth a new approach to phonology.

Last night (Saturday) Miriam played with her Highly Strung string ensemble in a little theatre in the Crucible called "Music in the Round.." Everyone except the cellos stood to play the Corelli Christmas Concerto, a Serenade by a Swedish composer, the Fugue from Mozart's Adagio and Fugue, and Bartok's Romanian Folk Tunes for Orchestra. It was disorganized, as usual, but lots of fun! Somehow the British can put disorganization together with fun in a way I don't think we can. We are so uncomfortable with disorganization! Here, they just "make it work" -- with a smile and some humour thrown in.

On Monday, Naomi will have her debut with her Porter Orchestra. All of the Sheffield music ensembles will be performing in the main performance hall called City Hall. She will be playing Farandole, and an abridged version of the March to the Scaffold. Everyone will play Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance. which they are calling "Land of Hope" -- in unison. It should sound lovely..???? The two orchestra pieces are sounding pretty good though. Adding a drum to the Farandole greatly helps keep it together!

This is the last week before a two-week spring break. The schools have Good Friday off. We will leave for Amsterdam on Easter Monday to spend four days there. We will be staying with an old family friend, Gerry Gleysteen. She was in Goshen when Suzanne was born, and held Miriam when she was about six months old. Now she will get to meet Naomi! Then, four more days in Provence, where Suzanne's Oncle Jean will be our personal tour guide! Let's hope for good weather all around!

3rd Mar, 2008


Blustery Days, Earthquakes, Dinner Invitation and Mothering Sunday

Since the splendidly calm and beautiful days of half term when Leonard and Irene visited, we have had our share of very blustery days, sometimes with rain, which is truly miserable. A few observations about wind in England: we are often reminded that we are on a relatively small island, where oceanic winds come our way quite frequently. The winds are clean and gusty, not like the Edmonton winds that blow up dust and snow. Adding rain poses a problem, however, for umbrellas are not happy with the gusts, turn inside out at best, and get mangled at worst. Indeed, on a blustery and rainy day, one finds abandoned mangled umbrellas strewn along the roads. We feel cozy in our little flat whilst the trees sway and the wind blows. But when we have to go out and it is windy and raining, we can easily resort to hiring a taxi!

Last Tuesday, early in the AM, there was an earthquake 75 km from Sheffield that shook our closet doors and woke most of us up wondering which continent we were in! Sure enough, in the news the next day, there was a report of an earthquake that shook many chimneys throughout England! Compared to our experience in Los Angeles, this was a little itty bitty earthquake with no aftershocks. It was none-the-less disconcerting to feel the earth shake in a country that normally is not on the earthquake radar.

On March first, we were all invited to our neighbour Ruth's flat for an evening meal. Jean and Rachel, two other neighbours joined. The village nature of Sheffield soon became apparent when Miriam and Naomi both recognised Rachel as a student teacher at High Storrs. Later, we learned that Ruth walks weekly with our Quaker friend Romaine who has given us rides to various Quaker events. We had a wonderful time eating cottage pie, leeks in honour of St. David, the patron saint of Wales (Rachel is Welsh!), trifle, rhubarb, along with discussions on everything under the sun.

Today was Mothering Sunday. Mothering Sunday in England is said to be a Sunday half-way through Lent when servant girls could go home to their mothers and mother church -- perhaps the one time during the year. Today, children seem to buy chocolates and flowers for their mums, but I heard of no one who was getting breakfast in bed! Suzanne was treated like a queen all day with crepes for breakfast, lunch out with Robert, a delicious decadent chocolate mousse cake with chocolate whipped cream on top, along with coffee brought by Irene! Entertainment was the beloved British show: "The Vicar of Dibley", which is full of truly British Anglican humour. Happy (European) Mother's Day to you all!

18th Feb, 2008


Suzanne's parents visit, we tour southern England

Our Half Term Break began with the arrival of Suzanne's parents on Thursday, 7 February. They stayed in the Peace Guest House up the street from our place, as our flat is tiny! On Friday, they met Suzanne's friends at the Conversation Club, which provides a laid-back opportunity for asylum seekers and British to interact over tea. Later, Irene joined Suzanne and Naomi at Naomi's second orchestra rehearsal. They worked on The March of the Scaffold by Berlioz. Naomi couldn't figure out why building scaffolding would warrant the sounds of a death march! It all made sense after we explained what kind of scaffold this was referring to.

On Saturday, one of the most beautiful days we had had in awhile, we took a bus and headed for the Peak District -- to the village of Castleton. We arrived too late to take in Peveril Castle, but were able to go up behind it and experience the picturesque hills and dales of the Peak District. As the sun was setting, we headed toward the other side of Castleton, which was more open, with sheep pasturing in the moors. We concluded our Peak District outing with a meal of lamb hotpot and Yorkshire pudding at a local pub.

Sunday was Leonard and Irene's introduction to the Sheffield Quaker meeting. Greetings from Ervin and Phyllis Beck were passed on, and good conversation followed the meeting, which had centered on finding and sustaining our spiritual connection with all living things.

Early Monday morning, we took a taxi to the train station to catch the 7:53 for Oxford. We arrived in Oxford in good time and had a lovely stroll through this college town which is quieter than some English cities largely due to its large number of bicycles. It was inspiring to see large bicycle parking lots by the train station, and in many other parts of Oxford. All but Robert enjoyed a birdseye view of Oxford from Carfax Tower (the 90 steep open steps did not work for Robert!). We also saw several of the Colleges, including Christ Church College, Merton College, and enjoyed walking down Merton Street. Near the Radcliffe Camera, we found a cafe in an old building with Gothic arches. We then took in a small exhibit on the Bodleian collection of the writings of Milton. This was especially interesting as Miriam is now studying Paradise Lost. We concluded our walking tour with a stop at the Blackwell Bookstore, the source of over thirty theological books for Leonard while he was at Seminary in Chicago fifty years ago. Robert, Irene, Miriam and Suzanne took in a choral Evensong at Christ Church Chapel. It was beautifully sung, with a beautiful Renaissance anthem by William Byrd.

The next day, we headed for the Cotswolds -- Burford, to be exact. Spring has come early - by six weeks, and evidence in the form of flowers was everywhere. The Cotswolds are an area of Britain akin to Provence, with lots of small villages that sprung up during the tine of the wool textile industry. The bus ride into this area was beautiful. We were hoping to take a stroll over to one of the smaller villages around Burford, but the terrain was a bit too muddy. The river Windrush, and the village of Widford in the distance, as well as the Burford Church of St. John the Baptist were lovely stopping places.

On Wednesday we took the train west to Bath. Thanks to a late train, we missed our connection to Bath, and thus also missed the 2:00 guided tour we were hoping to take in. We ended up concentrating our tour on the old Pulteney Bridge and Weir, as well as the Roman Baths. The Baths were very interesting, with all the layers of history they represent. The natural hot spring there was originally sacred to the British Celtic goddess Sulis. The Romans identified her with Minerva, and built a temple and healing centre over it. After our tour of the Baths, we found the Bath Quaker Metting, in the shadow of the Abbey. The meeting house was originally a Masonic Hall, and was bought by the Quakers in 1866.

On to London. Our afternoon stroll included a view of St. Paul's Cathedral, along with a stroll across Millenium Bridge crossing over the Thames and on to the Globe Theatre. We took in the exhibit and tour, and learned much about the theatre that Shakespeare (or whoever wrote those plays) wrote for. The acoustics were amazing, and it was interesting to try to imagine the thousands of unwashed people wearing unwashed clothes on a hot summer's day -- all squished into this little theatre. With this body warmth, the theatre was open year round. But today, it closes for winter.

In the evening -- on Valentine's Day -- we treated ourselves to a showing of the Mouse Trap. We were on the very top row of a very steep "upper circle." Some of us wished for seat belts! But nobody fell off the balcony, and we all had a few good laughs, trying to figure out "who dun it!" At the curtain call, we were told not to tell, so that if you are ever in London, and wish to take in the longest running play in London -- nearly 55 years -- the ending won't be spoiled for you! We elbowed our way through the crowded tube (everyone seemed to be getting out o their West End show at the same time) back to our quiet Quaker Penn Club Guest House.

After a lovely full English Breakfast the following day, most of us headed for the East London neighbourhood of Aldgate. This area was once occupied by Huguenot refugees, then Jews, and now Bengalis. (Leonard was under the weather, and opted to take the morning off.) We found some evidence of the Dickens past in this formerly very poor part of London. As well, we visited a Jewish Synagogue built in 1701 and in continuous use - the oldest synagogue in England. We then found our way to Brick Lane, which was formerly an evangelical hangout of the Huguenots, but today has curry house after curry house, staffed by the Bengali community.

In the afternoon, all but Robert went to visit the London Mennonite Centre at Highgate. We had a wonderful visit with the staff there, including Vic and Cathy Thiessen. Leonard had visited back in 1955, just two years after it had opened. Discussion centered around the projects the London Mennonite Centre hosts and collaborates with, recent good films (of course!), as well as the peace response to times such as Remembrance Sunday, in a country with first-hand eperience with with war. A group of Virginia volunteers was spending a week in London working on the grounds of the Mennonite Centre. Tim and Karlyn Wedler are a recent memory of long-term guests that brought smiles of delight and good memories!

We concluded our half term time together with a delightful Italian meal in a restaurant around the corner from the Penn Club, and said goodbye to Grand-maman and Grand-papa the next morning.

Now we are back in friendly Sheffield (there is a difference in character, we noted! ) along with the sweet sounds of the Yorkshire dialect. It is good to be home.

4th Feb, 2008


Robert's birthday

I't's February, which means time for another blog entry! Everyone has recovered from the bugs picked up en route over the holidays. Miriam is feverishly working on math in order to finish up her semester work through correspondence. Then it's back to the grind with biology, and of course the three courses she is taking here: early modern history, English Literature (which is two thirds American, as it turns out, with The Great Gatsby and Death of a Salesman, with Othello and Paradise Lost thrown in as well.)

Naomi has finished her cooking classes and has moved on to textiles. She wrote her first musical composition for music class -- a swinging tune for two instruments. She figured it all out on the keyboard at school, brought her ideas home and Suzanne helped her get the rhythms down on paper. Naomi has also decided to join a musical ensemble. The choice was between a band that was two levels lower than she is, but that has a bunch of her friends in it, or an orchestra that is at her level, but where she knows nobody. The orchestra was very receptive to the idea of her joining. Communication with the band organizers was more difficult, and even though she visited once, it seemed she was not welcome half-way through the year. She finally got up the nerve to try the orchestra, and when they started playing Farandole by Bizet, she was sold! She now has orchestra music to practice, in addition to her other oboe music, as well as all the books she is reading, with a little homework now and then! She has become a real bookworm.

Last night, we went to a céilí (dance). Two members of the Quaker meeting have a birthday on Feb. 2, and this was the year when their combined ages added up to 100. So they decided to throw a big party in a village hall outside of Sheffield. What a fun evening. We danced -- including Miriam -- until we were huffing and puffing. There was a folk band, replete with a bass balalaika played by a true aging hippy (Miriam was quite excited by this!), line dancing, circle dancing and square dancing, as well as pies with mushy peas, and of course, cake! The vegetarian line for the pies was much longer than the meat line, which I thought was interesting --- evidence of 21st cen. Quaker pracitce??? There were about 200 people there of all generations -- from toddlers to people approaching 80 -- one man in his kilt! Dress ranged from elegant to informal. Suzanne is still learning how to greet people here. In Switzerland, it's three kisses on alternating cheeks, in LA, it's a big bear hug. Here, it seems to be a little light kiss on the cheek --sometimes, which is not very helpful. Hand shaking seems to have fallen out of favour, or maybe never was a custom in England.

So now we have had an English garden party with cucumber sandwiches and tea with all of its variations (with/without added hot water, with milk before the tea is poured or after the tea is poured). Now we have had our dance party in a village hall. Apparently all that is left is a ball, and Quakers are not likely to put one on for us, apparently!

On Sunday night, we celebrated Robert's 47th birthday by going to an Indian restaurant that opened recently. It is apparently a favourite of Bollywood actors who come to Yorkshire. Suzanne mentioned to the waiter that we were celebrating Robert's birthday. We had our delicious assortment of dishes and opted to pass on dessert. We asked for the bill, and were told to wait a bit. The next thing we knew, they interrupted their piped in music, and started playing a rambunctious version of Happy Birthday. This was to accompany a parade down the stairs with a large sparkler sticking out of an ice cream goblet which they placed in front of Robert, and everybody in the restaurant was clapping! Robert was mortified, but managed a gracious smile, while the rest of us burst out in uncontrollable laughter.

Next week, we will be meeting Suzanne's parents on Thursday at the Sheffield train station for a week of fun around Sheffield, in Oxford, the Cotswolds, Bath and London. We hope for good weather. It has been blustery, cold (+4 to -4), with a bit of snow yesterday. But the grass is still green, and the sky is often blue, so we are hoping for the best!

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