Must See Theatre Event in Montreal – Go NOW!!

Ok – seriously – did I get your attention? I meant to. This is one amazing theatre event – and I fear under attended. While we can discuss what that happens – I’m here to tell you – GO!

The Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God – by Djanet Sears (nope – not a typo) – is completely enthralling – high end, sophisticated, captivating, entrancing, entertaining, dynamic, sit on the edge of your seat theatrical involvement.

There are 22 actors on stage – several have key ‘name’ rolls – Rainey – the black girl in the title, her father, her father’s good friends, and Rainey’s X-husband – Michel. The rest form a constantly moving a-Capella choir that is at once stage manager, a river, movement behind and round the scenes, drama enhancement, and music. It is stunning. The play runs from now till October 18, 2016 here in Montreal – and I suspect is going to show up in versions from Toronto to – dare I hope – off Broadway. It is that good, that enthralling, that radical.

The story itself is as old as time – and as current as today. Like Job, Rainey’s believe in God is severely tried by circumstances around her – it’s not just about being Black in Canada – it’s about being human in today’s world. Aging parents, husbands that aren’t perceived as properly supportive, a dead child. But all is not woe and grief – the play is surprisingly humorous in so many ways – that you find yourself laughing at points where crying seems the really right thing to be doing.

And like the best theatre – the entire space is open to use by the actors – they move up and down the aisles, they appear on the edges partly hidden by the side curtains, they sing from behind you, above you, around you. The sound alone is worth the price of admission – and the acting builds and twists around the glorious soundscape.

Have I intrigued you enough to go buy tickets? I meant to. Excellent theater like this must be supported – and while audience attendance is a drop in the bucket of money needed – strong attendence does send a message straight to the heart of the actors, directors, and producers. This is a winner.

We only regret what we never did…

Random thoughts

Blogging is a bit like thinking – sometimes it’s easy to do – and sometimes it’s a bit like wadding thru a very sticky mud puddle – and it mentally seems easier to just not do it. Which explains the quiet at this end of the blog trial I suppose. It’s not for lack of doing things – it isn’t even for lack of travel to blog – it’s fear of slogging that has kept me away from the keyboard. But enough self- pity I say – put fingers to the keyboard and get going!

I left off after the battle of Waterloo – and perhaps that’s part of my problem. We in the Napoleonic Re-enactment world have been working ourselves up for the 200th anniversary of Waterloo for years – and naturally there’s a bit of a let-down afterwards. It’s over. Done. Finished. There’ll be big re-enactments for 205, 210, etc – but I suspect that until 225 – there’s won’t be an event to so capture the imagination of so many of us. We left Waterloo with little fan fare. Took down our tents, hugged, saluted, and cried a bit with our friends from around the world and eventually turned ourselves and our car in the direction of Antwerp.

Why Antwerp? Why not Antwep I say! We’d never visited it – and we were very pleased to discover a wonderful old city, filled with nifty stores, including the largest puzzle/game/toy/miniture Train Store I’ve ever spent hours wandering thru. This store had everything. It was a modeler’s heaven, a puzzle maker’s paradise! And nice. We also took time to enjoy some of the restaurants of Antwerp, to visit some of the museums, and generally tour the town. Bottom line – great place to visit. Do include it on your next trip! We left Antwerp and headed for London. While I would have loved to have taken the Chunnel – flying was most efficient – so fly we did.

We then spent time visitng with my daughter and her new husband, checking out Crowne & Queue – my daughter’s new business venture. The highlight was an over to top fancy meal at the chef’s table at XX – way too expensive, but never-the-less a delight.

We were planning to drive to Bath for another Ball – but ran into trouble at the rental car place. We’d reserved an automatic – Victor can drive standard – but doing it on the left in London traffic seemed to be asking for trouble. Anyway – we showed up on time – to be told they had a bit of an issue. Too many reservations for automatics – not enough cars. Ok – no problem. I’d be arguing that going to Bath by train was much more logical – so train it would be!

The trip to Bath was delightful. The train clean and lovely, the British countryside quaint. Bath – as billed – is a tourist town on the too cute side! Beautiful gardens (that you pay to enter), a downtown full of shops catering to tourists – and our reason for coming – a Jane Austin style Ball. Bath has an entire week of Jane Austin festivities in September – but this was June.

Our friend Michel and Ardwena have come to this ball several times – and sold us on the idea. It so worked for timing after the Duchess of Richmond’s ball in Brussels – so why not. We check into our B&B – ok, not amazing – and not cheap – and wander up to visit with our friends. We do a lovely lunch – then discover that today and today only they are holding the Bath Area Model Building Show! The location is a huge open armory like building – but the models on display are well worth checking out. We spend our time going from booth to booth – then head back for dance practice.

A short break after that – not quite enough for dinner unfortunately, and we’re all dressed up and ready to dance.

Michel looks particularly fine in his silk ‘court’ outfit – heavily embroidered – and seriously fine. I think Victor is suffering from male suit envy! Victor has opted for a wool civilians outfit – and I think he’s re-thinking it. Wool – even light wool – is warm in the summer! And definitely hot when worn for dancing. Never-the-less – the folks at Ardwena’s and Michel’s BnB think we’re all very fine – and there’s a 45 minute photo session while neighbors gawk and snap away. Then it’s on to the Ball.

Michel even asks me for a dance – sometimes I’m glad I occasionally dress as a woman! Michel is a wonderful dancer – light on his feet, bright smile, and the occasional well needed light pressure to make sure I do the right thing. Such a pleasure to dance with.

After the Ball we go looking for a late night dinner – but Bath has rolled up the carpets. It’s drinks or nothing – and drinks just don’t seem right. We all tottle off for bed. Tomorrow we’re heading back to the City – Ardwena and Michel are spending a few more days in Bath before we all fly home to Montreal on June 30th.

Some excitement at my daughter’s – my tooth breaks! I’m paniced – but not in pain. So I call – long distance – my Canadian Dentist – who agrees to see me as soon as the plane lands in Montreal on the 30th. We finish the visit with my daughter and her new hubby – fly home – and I do the dentist thing. Note this folks – teeth were never meant to last 67 years – particularly teeth that have had filled in cavities 50 years earlier. That’s why it broke. The Dentist does the repair – and I’m all good.

2 days later – I’m traveling again – this time to Wells Beach, Maine for our annual beach holiday. It’s the 4th of July – and there are fireworks here, there, and everywhere. Sophie and I stand on the beach in stunned amazement as firework displays light up the sky up and down the coast. Most amazing – the personal fireworks! I’m used to seeing professional displays – but now they are selling almost professional level fireworks to anyone! So between the longer displays from the towns are individual displays put on by neighors to our right and left. I feel very very fetted. My kids arrive, my kids leave, the weather is wonderful – the seafood awesome, the hours spent relaxing with my feet in the sand well spent. A delightful holiday.

I spend part of it teaching Sophie to read English – and we manage to catch the library in Well’s at least 4 times. Books are your friends….

Finally it’s home. And I’m so happy to see my own bed, and my own garden I could cry. Ok – I probably did shed some tears. My pond looks wonderful – it’s been an awesome green season in Montral – too much rain for some folks – but my garden is happy, happy, happy!

Not wanting to grow any moss under my toes, I left just 2 weeks later for a quick trip to St. Croix and San Juan.

St. Croix is delightful as always – such good restaurants, such fun stuff to do and see and experience. We even spend a day on board a private sail boat – hours gliding over the waters looking for turtles – and then relaxing and snorkling a quiet reef. Fun – although my sister and my grand-daughter do get a bit of sun burn. The Captain of the boat lent me a ‘rash guard’ shirt – water friendly, long sleeves, sun proof and long in the bum. I immediately want to get one for myself – so my hubby goes out shopping the very next day and gets me a lovely blue one. Perfect.

Trip highlight – Trip to Buck Island! It’s just my grand-daughter, one of my sisters, and myself – and about 15 strangers on a huge Sailboat. But the snorkeling is outstanding. Truly outstanding. We see turtles, rays, a baracuda, and a shark (he’s sleeping in the reef – and we paddle above and around him for at least 10 minutes. I particularly loved poking my hands at the schools of small fish – watching them scatter – then re-group seconds later. Too much fun.

From St. Croix – it’s on to San Juan. We stay for 4 days in a super expensive – very la-di-da resort called El Conquistor. Highlight there – the funicular that takes you from the main part of the resort down to the marina where our rooms are located. Very cool. We take 2 tours – a walk thru the rain forest – which would be better if they’d had rain. San Juan is in the midst of a 2 year drought. That said – the swim in the waterfall – pretty much the point of the entire hike – is wonderful.

Highlight – the Kayak tour of the Bio-Lumincent Bay. My sister and her hubby are experienced Kayakers – my grand-daughter and I less experienced. But never mind – how hard can it be? Well in the dark, going thru a Mangrove Swamp – pretty hard. We’re in a line of 12 Kayaks – and the idea is to pass down warnings – Low Branch, Low Branch – Pow – found the low branch…

Between us we keep the Kayak moving forward – and eventually wend our way out to the Bay. It’s amazing. No – beyond amazing. Glorious – memorable, stunning – surprising – must do! You put your hand in the water – and it lights up! As your Kayak moves forward – you frighten the fish – who in their attempt to swim away create streaks of light in all directions. It’s perfect.

Our last dinner is at a local restuarant – and the highlight of that meal was a surprisingly good Nutella Soufflé. Oh was it yummy. We leave the El Conquistor behind and head ito San Juan Proper. My sister and her husband fly home – leaving my grand-daughter and I on our own. We’re staying in a hostel in the old city – a 6 floor walk-up that is perfect. Perfectly located, AC works a treat, and we can find food for reasonable prices nearby. What more does one need.

We relax, tour the forts and museums of Old San Juan – and do a bit of long delayed shopping. We admire the cruise boats – giant towering things that dwarf the buildings of the old city – and dodge the crowds coming off the boats. Eventually we too must head back to Montreal – my grand daughter has school – and I’ve gotten word that my dear friend Michel has suddenly died.

At first my response to this news is denial. I was just dancing with Michel – how could he have died? When he returned with us from Europe back in June – he’d told Ardwena that he was feeling very tired – but they had gone to Maine anyway, spending quality time with his son and two of his grand-sons. When they’d gotten back to Montreal – he’d continued to complain about chest pains – but not gone to the doctors.

On August 13 he went out for a jog, came home and apparently collapsed in the basement. They found him hours later when it became obviously that he wasn’t coming up for breakfast. He ws 69. I hate to end a blog on such a note – but Carpe Dium. Seize the day.

Michel and Ardwena had been doing just that – the Ball in Brussels a good example of an opportunity they didn’t want to miss. None of us will live forever – and I once read that it’s the things we didn’t do that we regret. Make a list – get the things you have always wanted to do – done!

Seize the day. Travel, visit with family, call friends, go to the theatre – just do it. There is time to count your winnings when the dealings done.

Signing off to go to find another ball to dance at in Michel’s honor …. The Soup Lady.

Napoleon meets his match – Waterloo 2015

Dawn on June 20, 2015 – aka June 17, 1815

Last night’s battle didn’t go too badly – no clear winner of course – but the French troops managed to push the British line back almost to the edge of the battlefield. Aside from that one Scottish group (looked like Scots – could have been Russians) – we held firm and felt strong.

Today of course is another day.

There’s a change in the atmosphere in the camp – the soliders are being so nice to M. le Docteur Jean Vivant de Clairmont! Do I have a seat, will I sit here – did I get my breakfast yet. Hey – do you think they are begining to see that I am not just a fancy outfit? Whatever – I’m relieved to feel the change – means I’m doing something ok.

Breakfast done – drill done – we are given the rest of the day off. The battle tonight will be epic – and we all realize it. Nerves are on edge – Justifably so I suppose. 200 years ago do you think the soliders were as nervous – they faced life or death, so I suppose they must have been worried. But they were so young – mostly 18 to 21 years old, did they think that what would happen that day would be so studied, so celebrated, so well remembered.
Our Major – Gilles – reminds us to be in battle dress and ready to assemble at 4:30 this afternoon. The battle won’t start till 8:00 pm – but we must march the 4.5 KM, then get into our formations.

Taking on my background role – interpreter – I go visit the Sutlers that have set up tents to sell their goods in the Allied camp, and near the battlefield. There are treasures galore – I score a new fan, and my partner finds a canteen. The weather is hot and humid, having enough water is going to be critical to the success or failure of the troops, and there are 120 men and women marching as Garde Imperial, not to mention the entire drum and fife core. I grab another 12 litres of water from the ‘canteen’ tent – and it’s a good thing too – he’s running low.

We gather at 4:30 – and ‘dinner’ is distributed – packages of dried apricots and bags of peanuts. I can appreciate the apricots – but why peanuts? M. le Docteur Jean Vivant de Clairmont is going to have enough trouble keeping the troops hydrated and on their feet without them eating peanuts! Good thing that La Culiere was in charge for lunch. He started with canned ravoli – but with skillful addition of sauage and chopped onions, made it into something delicous. Not period correct of course – (ravoli for French troops?) although canning was invented by order of our Emperor – so that at least was right!

Not fed – but carrying what is going to have to pass for dinner – the troops are mustered and we march out. There are cheering townspeople everywhere! They yell out their support for us – many choosing to march along beside us for short periods. We spot the calvary – over 150 horses and their riders – ready for battle, and looking truly fine.

There are over 2500 French troops on hand for this fight – we’re one small cog in a huge machine – all focused on gaining another victory for our Emperor. He rides by – gaily waving his Bicorne. We are joined on the field by several of the higher officers – and in the distance I spot the rest of the medical core. They have come prepared for trouble, they have stretchers ready to take soliders off the field.

We are positioned at the far end of the battle field – on a slight hilltop overlooking 3 huge structures – mock-ups of La Haye Sainte (bravely defended by The Kings Legion), Hougoumont (which will be set on fire sometime during this battle), and on the far eastern side of the battle field – Papelotte. La Guarde Imperiale never gets near any of these – we stay well into the open areas of the battle field.

Massed in front of us are what we can see of the Allied armies – primarily British commanded by Wellington. Historically – many of them would have been hidden from view, but today they are very visible, and very scary. They stretch from one end of the huge battlefield to the other – a mass of red coats and artillery.

The start of the battle is signaled by the announcer – who plays O Fortuna from Carmia Barna. Excellent choice – as it tells of the raise and fall of man’s fortune. Perfect for this battle that set the stage for Europe as we know it today.

But we don’t have time to listen – Our Major has gotten orders – and they are communicated to the 4 divisions as a series of commands yelled out by each of our officiers. The artillary barage has begun – and we are stationed near two of the larger guns. The noise level is considerable, compounded by the pyrotecnics. To both our left and right there are now fires burning – officially the result of cannon fire from the Brits – but really the careful positioning of pyrotecnics.

It dawns on me that I don’t know where they have these stacks of fireworks hidden on the field – but one of the officiers takes a moment to explain to me that they are individually controlled and supervised. The big ones won’t go off if anyone is near by. That’s reassuring, I guess.

I’m just hoping that my position in the exact middle of the Guarde will keep me safe.

Our Major commands that we march forward – and soon we are going down hill thru rye that reaches to my waist. Underneath the rye are ridges and hallows caused by plowing the fields – and I’m having trouble keeping my feet underneath me. I stumble along – trying as best as I can to march – but honestly – it’s hard just to walk fast enough to keep up with the troop.

Form Square is suddenly called – and for the first and only time – we blow it! Our square has a front and a back – but there is no real middle. The space where I would normally stand is filled with the flag, officers in gold and gilt who have decided to march along with us, and the entire fife and drum core. I have no choice – I draw my epee – and try not to get trampled. The British calvary makes a valient effort to cut us down – but the bayonets are mounted – and all they can do is clash sword againt bayonet. We are not allowed to shoot at them when they are this close – it’s dangerous for the horses. And they are really really close. I can hear the horses heavy breathing as they gallop past. And the earth literally shakes.

Our calvary rides up – and there is a massive calvary battle – right outside our position.

The Brits and their Allies eventually retreat – we form lines and continue our advance, straight into the guns of the British line. We mount Bayonets – but the gunfire doesn’t cease, and the Major doesn’t tell us to charge. Instead we being an organized march backwards.

The Old Guard never retreats – but apparently marching backwards (you try that) is ok.

We reposition ourselves further to the right side and this time we attack the British line.

It’s so much fun – we pull back and do it again!

But our losses are beginning to mount up – there are literally piles of dead everywhere – and when next I peek out from behind the line – the other doctors have begun to check on the dead. I join them – using my wet white glove to cool down their heads. It’s hot work being dead – even at 9:45 at night. The wounded and dead thank me – and like a good doctor, I don’t steal their shoes. I leave that for the thieves and Camp Followers – I’m all about helping the injured.

One solider lifts his hat – and his hair – to receive my cool touch- and I wipe down his bald head.

Suddenly I hear ‘Charge!’ from behind me! Oh my goodness – the Prussians have entered the battle – and we are being attacked! I’m on the outside of the line – and in serious trouble. I bravely (ok – maybe not so bravely) desert the dead and dying to run towards the square that the remaining members of the Guard have formed to protect the Eagle and the Flag.

Let me IN!!!

I squeeze in – just in time to see La Culiere throw himself into the line of fire in an attempt to protect the flag. He falls – along with most of the line.

The next time the attacking Brits fire – I fall too.

Wellington rides in to claim the field for the English. We have officially lost. The battle is over. Napoleon has met his match.


After the call to end the fight – the dead arise, and two of the old guard help me get back on my feet. Good thing too – I was lying there thinking – hmm, down wasn’t that hard – but I really don’t think I can get up my myself.

My apron is bloodied, most of my water bottles empty – and we still have the long march back to the Bivouac. Again I form a hitch hiking line up – flaging down cars to the amusement of the police acting as traffic control and fill them with soliders too tired and too sore to make the walk back. Eventually – it’s just me left – and when I flag down the last car – the police that are directly traffic give me a round of Appaluse!

Beer, Frits, Bed! No problem getting to sleep to night, I’m seriously sore – but glad I came.

The next morning I get the absolutely best compliment in the world. After Gilles, our Major, finishes his announcements – and thanks the North Americans in general – one of the Old Guard asks for M. le Docteur Jean Vivant de Clairont to be brought in front of the ranks. The line parts, and I’m waved to the front.

He announces – We want to thank Leslie specifically – and the entire company gives me a Hip- Hip – Hurrah.

Tears in my eyes – I remind them to drink water!

As the men pack up to leave – each and every one comes over to personally thank me – and in many cases give me a hug.

M. le Docteur Jean Vivant de Clarimont – you done good!

Signing off – The soup Lady.

Jane Austin Does Salt Lake City!

Nope – not Debbie Does Dallas – more Jane does Conservative – but lots and lots of fun.

We belong to JASNA – aka the Jane Austin Society – and without getting into particulars – our passion is the English Country Dancing. We didn’t join JASNA to debate the merits of Mr. Darcy over another one of Jane’s heros, analyise her books for hints about finances in Regency Times, nor get all dreamy about falling in love with the perfect man – but we will talk about dance masters, the finer points of dance behavior – and maybe even discuss the advantages of hard sole vs soft sole dancing shoes.

All of which brought us to the Valentine Regency Romance Balls in Salt Lake City. We traditionally spend several weeks sking in and around Park City – often returning back to Montreal on Valentine’s day. So imagine our surprise to be invitied to come to 2 – count’m 2 – Regency Balls in Salt Lake City right during our annual ski holiday.

Obviously – we just have to see what this is all about – so we grabbed a fourth suitcase, pack it full of our full dress Regency Best – and buy tickets.

This is the 5th year these pair of balls have been held – and they are organized by the JASNA folks in Salt Lake, with the participation of The Old Glory Dancers. They are held in the Masonic Temple in Salt Lake – a place you must visit. The ball room was huge! One can imagine the stern faces of the Masons overlooking some kind of Masonic rite in the space, and the hundreds of black and white photos – dating back to at least to 1906 definitely carry through on that theme – but for the purposes of a ball, the Masonic Temple is awesome.

The first ball was Friday night, the second on Saturday. Both balls included Dinner and Dancing- started at 6:30 – and were slated to end at 11:00. Keeping in mind that this is extremely conservative territory – the early ending hour shouldn’t be a surprise – but other things were.

Attendance, by Montreal Standards, was huge – 100 dancers on Friday, over 200 on Saturday. But the dance floor was so large that these numbers posed no problems. The space was grand, high ceilinged, cool, and while not a properly sprung dance floor – the surface was quite acceptable for dancing.

Unlike other balls I’ve attended – the only live music was during dinner – when a string quartet quietly played in a corner. The dance music was produced by iTunes – playing thru proper speakers so that it was sufficiently loud to be clearly heard over the hub-bub of the dancers. Speaking of hub-bub – and comparing this ball to other’s we’ve attended – the dancers were extremely polite, watching the demo’s attentively – and then paying close attention to directions. Maybe a Morman thing? Don’t know – but it certainly made it easier to learn the dances.

One clearly Morman thing – the conservative take on Regency dressing! Nary a heaving bosom in sight – the dresses consistently rode high across the chests of the ladies. Too funny that – I noticed the difference immediately, it took Victor a bit longer to pick up on it.

We were pleasantly surprised by the warmth and greetings we received. After all – you don’t generally get people from a different country (Canada) showing up at your local ball, deep in LDS territory! On Friday night we were given a prize for longest distance traveled, and then there was a ‘clap-off’ for best dressed Gentleman! My husband claimed the Mr. Darcy prize – much to my personal delight. There were also prizes for best dressed couple, and for most Anachcronistic dress. The winner on Friday was a gal wearing a dress featuring black leaves, but most Anachcronistic on Saturday night summed up what folks who revel in Regency dress find most distrubing. This gal was wearing a dress that ended about 3″ from what counts – with her legs on full display! Scandalous! And her hands were exposed, and her hair down. What was her mother thinking when she left home for the ball. I’m sure her coachman were equally alarmed!

On the other hand, the dance masters were truly excellent. Seriously excellent. Maybe some of the best I’ve ever seen. Each dance was performed without explanation by their team, then performed again with a verbal explanation. Then we formed up lines or quadrilles or circles – and they walked us thru the dances several times – each time allowing us to progress – so we got to practice with different partners, and in different starting positions. Finally – we’d do the dance – and the music would run long enough for everyone to move thru the entire line. It was Great.

Dinner – such as it was – was served about 1/2 way thru the evening. It was buffet style – a huge platter of salad, a metal serving tray of rice, a platter of ham like you get off a spiral cut, and grapes. I can easily observe that food quality was not a criteria for caterer selection. In fact, I’m willing to guess that we were looking at home cooking. Oh well – dancing is thirsty work – not so much hungry work! So grab some food and carry on!

Some other unique things about the Utah versions of Regency Balls – There was no alcohol served – but thinking back on other balls, particularly the ones held in Montreal, there was no alcohol served there as well. So maybe more of a JASNA thing. And another unique-ness – the after ball party! In Montreal, we might gather at a local late night restaurant for food and chatter – but in Utah – they danced! Rock and Roll of course – which is a hoot when you are wearing Regency dresses let me tell you.

And the last unique-ness – the age of the guests! Most of the JASNA events I’ve participated in tend to favor an older crowd – people looking for something active, but not too active. In Utah – Regency dancing is a way to meet guys and gals! So the average age was closer to 30 then 50.

Bottom line – we’ve penciled in not only next year’s Utah JASNA Valentine Dances – but also their summer JASNA festival. In fact my husband and our friend – the sword master – are working on a dueling workshop. I’m going to guess that the battle will be hard fought before a winner in announced.

Signing off to find a new pair of dancing shoes (mine died during the reel) – The Soup Lady.

Dawn breaks early in the Old Guard Bivouac

Historically the Old Guard did not have tents at this point and place in time, but fortunately for me – M. le Docteur Jean Vivant de Clairmont, the organizers have bent the cardinal rule – ‘It must be correct for the period’ – enough to let us use tents.

And what is inside a tent is private – no peeking by tourists. Thus we can stow in the tents all our non-period correct items – from plastic bottles of water, to food stuffs, sacks of bread, and in the case of our unit of Old Guard – rotten carrots. I’m not sure what the point of the carrots actually was – but rotten they were, and throwing them away was really the only solution.

In our tents you will also find things like sleeping bags and foam air mattresses – but the hardier among us use bags filled with Straw (called Paillaise), sheepskin pads, and wooden furniture. Those tents are left open for tourists to check out – the simple rule – if the tent is open, you can look – if the tent is closed – no looking please!

After what can only be described as a seriously disappointing breakfast – they opened packages of waffle looking things (can you say sugar high), and there was some coffee looking stuff involved – but the lack of milk is a serious problem for me, as is the lack of a chair. I need to sit to eat – and sitting is not an option when there are 40 soliders, 12 chairs – and one Doctor. Despite this – I try to find a seat – and get the hairy eyeball. Hey – that’s my chair – you didn’t even ask to share.

Thanks. Next time I fly – I fly with a chair.

Ah – but creature comforts aren’t what this is about – so I stand tall – and join the army. They are not at all sure what to do with me. The only people I’ve marched with before is Gilles – the Major who does most of the leading of the troops, and Pierre – who as the Collonel is the senior officer, but serves mostly as overview. It’s Gilles who tells the troops to let me alone – and begrudingly they ceed space. But you can tell they aren’t too happy about a woman who is wearing an officier’s uniform (all medical staff are officers).

I’m extremely serious about drill – so I gather my water bottles, hidden in my doctor’s bag, and march just behind the 3rd division. That puts about 70 men in front of me, another 30 behind – as the Docteur, it’s pretty important I be protected – but again with the hairy eyeball. The nerve I have…

A quick word about my doctor’s bag – I don’t just have water inside, I have bandages – both real for emergencies, and ‘fake’ large clothes with blood stains for covering the real bandages. I also have stuff for other kinds of emergencies – medical, and not so medical. I’m a gal of many tricks – all hidden behind my lovely Doctor’s uniform!

I ignore the questioning looks – seen this before – and decide to march closely behind the men. At each repose – I make sure everyone has water. At first most of the men politely decline – but as the drill goes on and the sun comes out – I have more and more ‘Thank You’s’ to my questions – “L’Eau? Water?”

We practice forming and reforming the Square. This formation is specifically against calvary – and our captain clearly fears their effectiveness. We get it down to 8 seconds – from his call to form a square – to a clear square with room inside for the flag and flag bearers, the other officers – and of course the Doctor.

My view from inside the square isn’t great – the spaeurs on the corners are the shortest of the soliders – and they are huge! But that isn’t the point of a square – it’s all about protecting the flag and the eagle on the top.

We break for lunch (sliced sauage (Thanks Crown and Queue), cheese, and bread. After lunch I perform the other part of my job – translator for the re-enactors from the US who speak no french. One of our guys has purchased a musket that will not fire – and I’m going to go with him to the sutllers who have set up shop back near the battle field. Guess I’m doing that 5K walk again!

We manage to buy him a used musket, and head back to camp – just in time to march out for the Friday night battle. This time there’s no cheating by taking a bus or hitch-hiking – it’s march the 5 Km in full kit with backpacks or else. I’m carrying 2 liters of water – and I’ve hidden another 6 liters of water in the backpacks of the stronger soldiers. I’ll refill my ‘period’ bottle as I run low during the fighting.

We drop one man on the walk – he just stumbled – but the result was a bloodly knee that needed my quick attention. My job during the next 4 hours is to be sure the men have plenty of liquid, provide bandages and help with mis-firing muskets as needed, and stay out of danger. I’m the Doctor. At the end of the battle – I need to signal the medical core to come and get the injured worth saving off the field. But this is getting ahead of my story – first we might fight.

The French plan, as I understand it, is to simply run the Brits off the field. After all – we trounced the Prussians just 5 days ago – the Brits are far less experienced. And things go well at first – we form our squares pretty well – and the Allied Calvary fails to break thru.

At one point – to my horror – the allied calvary gets behind our lines – and is riding free – swinging their sabors. Along with Adrien, our adjutant – I defend the back of our men with my epee! It’s like theatening a dinosaur with a needle – the sabors of the calvary would make mince-meat of my attempt at defence – but at least the line realizes the issue, and does an about face. Now I’m in front of the line – and they are preparing to fire!

Do I fall? Do I flee?

Fortunately, the Major recognizes the issue – and calls – form Square! Whew – somewhere for me to run and hide!

Never been so glad to see a square in my life!

But the Scotish infantry have different plans. Instead of just pretending to shoot at the square – they mount bayonets and Charge!

The Square stays as strong as it can – but eventually the Scotish – despite their officer giving other commands – forces some of the elderly Sapeurs aside and attempts to grab our flag. My husband, as Guardian of the Flag, levels his musket and forces 3 Scots back. An actual fight breaks out – complete with bloody noses – until the offciers can get the Scots to back off. I continue to swing (ok – pretty harmlessly) my epee – and while it’s not very scary, the Scots do keep away from me. Is it the Epee? Or is it the Doctor’s Uniform?

The Scots retreat – the battle is over.

We form up, and march off the field. The plan is to continue the battle from this point tomorrow!

I ask permission from the officers to hitch rides for soliders that are too tired or too sore to march the 5 Km back to the camp.

Then it’s Frites and Beer and Bed!

Signing off – M. le Docteur Jean Vivant de Clairemont

Re-enacting isn’t easy, People!

1 Historic Battle (broken into 2 parts), 4 days in the Bivouac, 300 horses, 100 cannon and 5000-6000 participants are needed to entertain the 200,000 spectators that have paid good money to watch us march, form squares, repel horseman slashing at us with sabres – and scream “Vive l’Empereur” at every opportunity. Oh – and learn a bit of history in the process.

It’s huge fun – and really hard work!

Day 1 – we must find the Bivouac of the Old Guard. I do wish that was as easy done as said – but we are running late, and can not just drive into the space. Already in uniform – Victor tosses me out onto the road with bags full of wine, sausauge, and other Bivouac necessities. His directions – find our tent in the Old guard camp. This would be a lot easier if I wasn’t weighed down with bottles of wine – and if there was only one Old Guard camp. Turns out there are 2 – and of course I first find the wrong one.

Fortunately – Victor is extremely well known – and by extension – so am I. It doesn’t take long for someone to realize I’m completely lost – and direct me (smattering of English, some French – bit of Russian) to the right camp.

Now – I just need to find our tent. I ask – and get sent in the wrong direction. The camp has grown significantly since Victor set up the tent 2 days ago – and it now huge. There are probably over 100 tents in the space – and finding our tent is not trival.

Just not a good start.

The Old Guard Bivouac is on a relatively hilly piece of ground, making finding a level spot to pitch a tent an issue – the good news – Victor was here early enough to score one of the flattest spots! Yeah, Victor.

There are the mandatory row of Port-o-Potties – plus a wonderful surprise – boy’s and girl’s hot showers! There’s even a portable Pissoir – with a sign indicating – only for guys! (It’s a sign with both a woman and a man, but the woman has a red ‘X’ through her!) There is also a ‘canteen’ of sorts – the organizers have promised a meal a day – and this is where we’ll be picking up our cans of peas and carrots, Ravoli, and spaggetti. Grand dining – I think not! I’m really happy that we brought some sausages from Crown and Queue and on my mental list is fruit – should I spot a salesperson.

There is one lonely water faucet – for the entire encampment. To deal with this lack, the organizers have seriously stocked up on .5 litre plastic water bottles. Knowing that 100 men will go thru 10 to 12 liters of water – per drill and per battle – I immediately stock up. I hate the waste of little bottles – but if that’s all that’s on offer – I’ll deal.

The Bivouac is open to the public – which means tourists snapping picture after picture of us trying to eat, trying to relax, trying to build a fire, trying to cook. One unmounted calvary man is sharing our space – and he has his Cuirass and saddle on display. The entire world marvels at it – I’ll bet it’s going to be featured in at least 100 home movies!

Things aren’t all rough however, just a short 1 minute walk away are a frite truck that sells bratwurst – and a waffle wagon. That plus the omni-present beer tent – and it’s camping – re-enactment style!

Our plans for the evening get changed drastially when we find out that Cirque d’Soleil has planned a sound and light show called “Inferno“. The price per ticket is huge – but in our uniforms – we’re free. That’s a great price – so a group of us gather to figure out two major things – how to get TO the show, and how to get HOME!

None of this is trivial – the organizers have a bus service of sorts that goes to the battle field (we’re 5 Km away – keep that in mind), but it stops at 5:00 – and the show starts at 10:00 PM. Humm. My new best friend Sophie suggests we hitch hike- and we all agree – why not!

It’s surprisingly easy to catch a lift – or 4 as it turns out we need. Who wouldn’t stop to pick up a guy (or gal) in uniform. We’re not even armed.

Once there – we settle in for what turns out to be the fireworks show to end all fireworks shows!

The theme is of course the battle of Waterloo – and from the opening notes of ‘The Hanging Tree’ from the Hunger Games series – you know this isn’t going to be pro-war!

In addition to limitless fireworks – all coordinated to music, there’s the opening ‘Duchess of Richmond’s’ Ball – there’s a memorial act to the thousands of horses that died on this field in the form of gigantic horse puppets – lite from within, and there are real Calvary on real horses racing around the field. My favorite – the fire throwers.

Performers in skin tight outfits come out onto the walkway that seperates us from the field, and proceed to pour fire around and around them. Then they shovel up whatever they were pouring – throwing it up and over their heads. It explodes there into a huge fireballs – and pours fire onto their heads. They do that over and over again. It’s awesome!

Further from us, there are performers with fire head-dresses, and of course the huge lion mouth at the center of the stage shoots fireballs from the top – over and around the spectators.

I can’t help but think that in comparison the battle will be a sad sack event!

Fireworks finally over, we leave and walk 1 km to where they are allowing cars to travel. We again resolve to hitch our ways back to the Bivouc, and eventually we are all tucked into our tents.

Tomorrow is our first battle!

Signing off to get some much needed rest – The Soup Lady – aka M. le Docteur Jean Vivant de Clairemont

The Duchess of Richmond’s Ball

200 years ago – with troops massing all thru Europe, and Napoleon fighting for the life of France – the Duchess of Richmond decided to have a ball in Brussels.

According to our informed source – so many people wanted to attend the ball – it was held in a barn!

Fast forward 200 years – and with re-enactors massing all around Brussels – the ‘Duchess’ is holding her ball again – and of course we must attend.

Word has gone out that French uniforms will not be acceptable – and gentlemen and their ladies must dress properly. The Ball will include a lovely sit-down dinner, hosted by the ‘Duchess’ and her consort – and of course ‘Wellington’ and his officers will be in attendance.

We are booked into the ‘Salve’ BnB – with in easy walking distance of the Chateau where the Ball will be held. Our friend – the Saper – is joining us – we shall be attending the ball together.

We dress for the occasion – and I must admit – we look quite fine! My seamtress has done a wonderful job on my gown, and my escorts look dashing in their top hats, canes, and dancing shoes. We look so good that one of our hostess’s neighbors comes over to see what is happening and insists on taking pictures. Our hostess even provides us with a carriage ride for the short distance – and we make our proper entrance to the Ball. The company is fine and beautifully dressed. And the Chateau is magnificant.

Properly dressed waiters in period wigs serve everyone champagne and hors d’oeuvres – and we gossip and chat till Wellington arrives. He invites us to join him on the veranda for a fife and drum concert, performed splendidly by a troop from the loyal Colonies.

They march in, perform to the attention and applause of all, and then we mount the stairs for a splendid dinner.

Our dinner companions are Dance Masters from the Colonies, a wonderful couple from the Prussian Allies, the ‘Saper’, and a Spanish Couple who enterain us all with tales of the problems Spain is having with both Louie Boneparte and their herditary King. To their minds, neither is worth the uniform they wear!

After dinner, it is time for the ball proper to begin. While my dance card is hardly full – I do have the first few dances claimed – and I hope to find partners for them all.

We begin with a traditional Polonaise – which gives us all the opportunity to check out the other dancers, and to admire the gowns of the other ladies. There are some stunning gowns, and to be honest, I suffer a bit from gown envy. Where do they find such lovely materials to work with – I shall definitely have to have a word with my two seamstresses – The Regency version of keeping up with “The Jones’s ”

The dances roughly alternate between Long line dances and Quadrilles. I of course try to dance them all – but it is a challenge to hear the Dance Master over the hubub in the room. Several times – in several languages – he asks for people not interested in dancing to retire to the sitting areas – or to make use of the terrace, but I suspect that watching the dancing is simply too much fun!

Suddenly the dancing is interrupted by a young man in uniform accompanied by two Prussian officers in muddy traveling cloaks. They run into the room – calling for the attention of Wellington! He hands him a message – and Wellington reads the note to himself and then informs us that Napoleon has ‘humbug’d’ him – and is even now approaching the city! Women gasp white the officers in attendance grab their hats and swords and promptly follow Wellington out of the room.

The remaining dancers finish the dance, but clearly the mood is no longer one of gaiety and laughter – war has come too quickly upon us.

We make our way to the cloakroom – and head back to our lodging. Tomorrow we are off to the Bivouac.

Signing off to put on her uniform and prepare for battle – The Soup Lady.

It’s back to Civilization – or Brussels on the Cheap….

After our uneventful flight to Brussels – and equally uneventful train/metro to our hostel – we are delighted to be welcomed at the “Sleephere” Hostel!

Karl is an incredible host – and our palace on the 3rd floor (yes – it’s a walk up – again) – is glorious. We finally have our own bathroom – and it has marble everywhere! Shower, sink, floor, walls – it’s so beautiful – and just ours! No sharing. I hate sharing – there is something about dealing with other people’s mess that just doesn’t work for me. The Intrepid Traveler and I have our corners – we allocate our spaces and know automatically whose towel is whose. I suppose it’s a bit like an old married couple – but with none of the strains!

Our Palace – besides having it’s own bathroom – is lovely. It’s in the attic of a home built originally in the 1600’s – then renovated in the 1800’s – our room was one of the last added – and our ceiling height ranges from 10′ in the center to under 5′ on the sides. I know this for certain – I’m bumped my head twice already. But it’s clean, it’s got windows on 4 sides – and we’re very very happy to have a space that is ours alone.

The common area of the “SleepHere” is awesome. Leather furniture everywhere – and super comfortable. There’s a Piano (which our host plays occasionally), a large TV, a giant dinning room table where they serve a lovely breakfast (can you say – coffee please), and a huge kitchen with tons of working space, a nice fridge, lots of dishes ands of glasses.

Most importantly to me – and the reason I reserved here in the first place – a garden terrace. The Intrepid Traveler and I are so very pleased to have a terrace – and the roses and peony’s are in bloom.

I chat up Karl – and get a quick tour of the dorm rooms. We’re in the only double – but the house sleeps 20. The dorm bathrooms – like ours – are all done in marble – and equally glorious. Unlike Russia – where the name of the game was to cram as many beds into a sleeping space as possible – here there are no bunk beds, and everyone has a ‘dresser’ to call their own. It’s dorm living the upper class way! Karl proudly shows me the historic parts of the house – the current entrance was the original carriage way – and when they had to do some repairs to the ground floor – they dug up the original foundations – from the 1600’s. This place is amazing.

We dump our gear, relax with our bread and cheese in the garden for a late dinner and it’s relatively early to bed. Tomorrow will be a long day.

Some quick notes – Brussels, in comparison to St. Petersburg, is dirty! There’s dog poop everywhere, overflowing garbage cans, and homeless camped out here and there. This is when I realize what I didn’t see in St. Petersburg – homeless and garbage. Interesting, eh? I also realize that people smile and say hi a lot more here – and the kids are playing. All things we missed for 2 weeks.

Up early on Saturday, we relax over breakfast at the hostel – our host makes a point of joining everyone at breakfast – and it’s time to share information. Where are you from? Where are you going? What are your plans for the day? Did you see something cool? We relax – we chat – and then it’s on to our plans for the day – Laundry first!

That is when Sticker Shock really hits us – and it hits hard. In St. Petersburg – laundry was free. Here it’s 3.5 Euro a load to wash, and since the token machine was empty at the laundry mat – drying is going to be done the hard way – on a line, in our room. And it’s not just the laundry that pricy – fruit is twice the price, wine in the grocery store is double what it was in St. Petersburg – even the bread is more expensive.

Quick lunches – which we could find for $5 (4 Euro) in St. Petersburg are 22 Euro here. I’m sure they are worth the extra money – but how as budget travelers are we going to survive? It’s going to be take out and grocery stores for us here!

Laundry done – we walk the streets of Brussels. The area near the hostel is closely packed with restaurants and shops – and of course a Catholic Church – so services are on the menu for this afternoon. We also tour the Grand Place – the tourist heart beat of the city. 6:00 finds us at the Cathedral – listening to the organ play as services start. For dinner we opt for take-out – Peking Duck, Rice and a nice bottle of White Wine. Like St. Petersburg – it’s light out till almost 11:00 PM – so while it feels early, it’s actually quite late when we crawl up the 2 additional flights of stairs to our palace.

Sunday – up somewhat early – we head out to the Weekly Flea Market – and not surprisingly – anything nice is very expensive. The sellers (mostly professionals who do this for a living) are clearly very aware of the value of every single thing that they own – and price it accordingly. Silver – real silver – is extremely expensive – and while stuff from the 50’s and 60’s abound – anything that smacks of history or value is long gone. I struggle to find a set of silver spoons – and end up with 12 nice looking silver plated ones. Not as great as I’d hoped – but better than no spoons! Oh well.

For lunch we need to sit down – so we find a relatively inexpensive cafe – and share a bowl of onion soup and a Croque Monsieur. It adds up quickly – but we are so happy to have a toilet and a place to just sit – we just quietly camp out and let the world pass by for a while. This is why we can’t do organized tours anymore – when we crash and burn – we need to stop!

Vitals restored – we walk towards our next destination – the Royal Art Musuem. On the way – we pass a ‘Frite’ Stand – and I do a hard left! No way I’m not having French Fries here – they are so yummy with Mayonnaise. We share a big cone of awesome frits – and continue on our way.

At the museum – they are doing a major exhibit on Chagal, one of my favorite artists – but at 15.50 Euro – each – it’s well over our price range. We opt for the much less pricy permanent exhibits – and tour the ‘Margrite’ museum, and the old masters. Rubens, Rembrant, Bosch, and of course 6 paintings by the Bruggers – 3 younger, 3 older. All magnificant. Dinner is wine, bread, and brie. Yum.

Monday – all museums are closed in Brussels – at least all the major ones. So we do the public tram tour. You buy a one day ticket for just a few Euro, and ride from one end of the line, out all the way to the other end – and back! It’s really interesting to see what Brussels looks like when you aren’t in the heart of historic Brussels!

Back at the hostel we have a lovely easy dinner – bottle of wine, cheese, some of the lovely sausages that are literally everywhere – and conversations on topics ranging from life in the US, to finding and keeping a good boyfriend, to getting into a good university, to the challenges of deciding on your direction in life. All the things that young people worry about – and old people – like us – love to listen to! (and secretly sing – “I’m so glad I’m not young anymore”)

Tuesday – our last day together on this trip – and we decide to tour 2 different museums – the Military life museum and the Museum of Ethnology – I want to see the statue from Easter Island. We keep running into fellow re-enactors – the Battle of Waterloo 2015 (200th anniversary) is this weekend – and of course a tour of the Military museum in Brussels is a must. I will admit that the exhibit they had on World War II – from the Belgium perspective – was extremely well done, and very very interesting.

Despite the sticker shock – our economies have paid off – and we actually have enough Euro’s left to spluge on a nice dinner. Our decision – Waffles and Hot Chocolate at one of the top chocolate makers in Beligum! Oh my – it’s delicous. Awesome actually. Seriously finger licking good.

Wednesday – Victor – lovely Victor – picks us up at the hostel with his rental car and we battle our way out to the airport to send the Intrepid Traveler home. These 4 weeks have just flown by.

Then my husband and I head back to the area near my hostel to eat a seafood lunch of mussels (yum) and frits. I’m really getting addicted to those frits – and while mussels aren’t in season – (June has no “r” in it) – they still beat the pants off most of the mussels we get in Montreal. Then it’s on to our BnB and to the Duchess of Richmond’s Ball.

So – having basically caught everyone one up to date – I’m signing off now.

Blog alert – the next blogs are going to be re-enacting based – Napoleon’s forces are massing on the borders of Belgium – the trumpets are sounding – and it’s off to war I must go.

The Soup Lady

Things I couldn’t say until I’d left Russia behind

I’m currently in Brussels – we left St. Pete’s behind us – an overall uneventful trip via Estonia. But now that’s I’m comfortably at a distance from Russia – here’s some parting observations I didn’t feel good about sharing earlier. Enjoy the read.

Russia – aka St. Petersburg – is exciting, interesting, spooky, uncomfortable, awkward, unfeeling, unsmiling, quiet, clean, oppresive, sad, and worth a visit.

Maybe this is a totally personal perspective, but both the Intrepid Traveller and I agreed that there is something – well – odd about being in Russia. Maybe it’s just us and our memories of the Cold War, of the injustices of Stalin’s regime – but maybe it’s more than just that. In any case – here are things that bothered and/or intrigued me about being in Russia.

Awkward 1 – There are a lot of police and military around. All the time. Everywhere. In cars, in armored vehicles, just walking the streets. Sometimes they sport machine guns, sometimes it’s just hand guns. But it’s a lot. A whole lot.

Awkward 2 – The insignia of the miliary guys are velcro’d to their uniforms. That means they can quickly ditch any indication of who exactly they are. I find that very uncomfortable. We tried to ask about it – but were politely told – none of our business.

Awkward 3 – We saw at least 2 groups of people stopped by the police and/or military and questioned. We were warned to carry photo-copies of our passports around, not the real thing – and to never give our passports to anyone in the police and/or military. We were told by fellow tourists we met outside of Russia that they had been hasseled while in Russia – As members of a visual minority – they were targeted and money demanded to make the issue go away. This is not a good thing if you want tourists to come to your country.

Awkward 4 – MacDonald’s in an airport doesn’t make me forget that buried deep inside are individual booths used to control both incoming and outgoing travelers. We’d seen the booths in a museum on the Cold War in Berlin. Imagine our shock to see that Russia is still using the same booths today. You line up at the border station, divided by passport type. Each booth has a door in, and a door out that closes and opens under the control of the guards. Travellers are requested to enter as individuals (Yes – even kids go in alone). There is a mirror over your head so that the unsmiling border guard can see behind you as well as in front of you. The desk of the guard is high, and protected so that at least I could not see what they were doing while they had my passport. There is plate glass between us – stretching all the way up to the ceiling. When they finish doing whatever they are doing – the door in front opens automatically. There is no – have a nice trip, welcome to Russia – nothing at all is said. Just hard eyes, unsmiling faces, and papers. Yes – it’s spooky, macabre, uncomfortable, spine tingling, and not the way to encourage visitors. I almost turned around to get back on the plane right then.

Awkward 5 – Kids – even little kids – don’t smile. I am 67 years old, 5’4″ high, and a grannie. I smile at kids. In every country I’ve ever visited before Russia – the kids eventually smiled back. Not here. Not once. In other countries – parents have encouraged their kids to speak to me – to practice their English – to wave. Not here. Not once.

Awkward 6 – The metro and buses are silent. People don’t chat, they don’t greet friends, they don’t smile. The corners of their mouths tend to go down – not up. This was really obvious when we rode the metro in Brussels – we immediately were innodated with the sounds of people using the time on the metro to share news, greet each other – whatever. This just didn’t happen in Russia. Even in restuarants and museums things were hushed. I laughed loudly at a funny video segment – and not only shocked the locals – I embarrased the Interpid Traveler. There’s a constraint, a – don’t look at me – I’m not really here – feeling that even as tourists, we were well aware of.

Awkward 7 – We were warned by our host to not drink the water from the tap. That’s not unusual – I’ve been in tons of places where tap water is not entirely safe for our delicate stomachs – but this was awkward in Russia because we would buy water only to see it being used by other people. I don’t mind sharing – but water is heavy! And the supermarket was a distance from the hostel – far enough that for us – carrying the water was an issue. If you are going to use someone else’s water – at least buy some yourself to share too! I had to ask our host to supply us with some water – which he did. But I had to ask. You can understand that this is awkward.

Awkward 8 – Constant security just doesn’t feel safe. There were ‘administors’ whose job it was to sit up all night at the reception desk – keeping us safe. Since we had only a shared bathroom – that meant getting up in the middle of the night and walking past the guard to get to the toilet. He would smile and wave – but while it did feel safer knowing that there was someone between me and whatever – the smile and wave with me in my PJ’s was odd. But that’s not the only example. To get into our hostel – we had to enter one code at the gate, then ring another code at the door to the building. They would have to pick up the phone – then buzz us in. Once in the hall way – they would open the door to the hostel, visually checking to be sure we were who they were expecting. At the MIR hostel – the final inspection was via video – at the two smaller hostels – the administrator had to get up and physically open the door for us. I don’t know about you – but it felt weird to me.

Awkward 9 – There are no thrift stores and no flea markets. So what do Russians do with their old stuff? I’m guessing that the no flea markets has to do with people being able to sell stuff on their own – and unsuperised by the government – free enterprise is bad afterall – but no thrift stores. Really? Maybe they just don’t want me to know about them?

Awkward 10 – we were told by the Hostel folks, and it’s implied on the Canadian Consulate website that bringing things to the attention to the Russian Police is not a good idea. Why is this awkward – my wallet was stolen, and the credit card folks – to cover their bums – want to know if I have a police report – and I don’t. Apparently – a phone call telling them to block the cards wasn’t quite good enough. Go figure.

Pro Russia 1 – It’s clean. Really clean. Yes we did see a bum pee into a bush once, but in general, the streets were spotless. One morning we were even up early enough to see them vaccuming the streets. It was a huge vaccum cleaner – it towered over the head of the operator, and it was on wheels. He moved around the cobblestone square – cleaning as he went.

Pro Russia 2 – There’s no dog poop. Anywhere. Ever. Dog’s yes – plenty of them, including a completely charming pair of pugs – but no dog poop. I have no idea where they put it. And despite the huge number of horse drawn carriages – no horse poop either.

Pro Russia 3 – Still on the clean issue – the public garbage cans were always mostly empty. Here in Brussels we’ve seen them overflowing – that was never ever the case in Russia – even in our courtyard the public bins were emptied at least twice a week – and maybe even more often.

Pro Russia 4 – there is a massive coffee cult! Roadside Expresso stands were the norm – my personal issue with them – they only opened in the afternoon – and I won’t drink coffee after lunch – too much caffine for my system. But they sure looked good.

Pro Russia 5 – The food truck is in. They had bakery food trucks, they had cheese food trucks, they had sauage food trucks and food stands. There was at least once food stand a block, and in more popular (aka touristy ) areas – there might be 3 or 4 of them. Surprising to me – given the temperature – the two products most on offer – outside of sausages – were corn on the cob and ice cream. Eventually I had to try an ice cream. It was ok – but Italy needn’t worry.

Pro Russia 6 – Outdoor cafes have blankets! Isn’t that the smartest thing ever. In addition to heaters (less common) – there are blankets available – perfect for enjoying outdoor seating – and staying warm.

Neutral Russia 1 – There were no homeless people to be seen. Now given the weather in winter in St. Petersburg – that might be related – but we were in St. Petersburg during the White Nights, and the weather was outstanding every single day. Surely there must be some homeless folks somewhere. But they sure weren’t visible – something that can not be said about Brussels – or Montreal for that matter.

Neutral Russia 2 – Begging takes a different form. Several times we’d get off the beaten trail enough to see rows of elder women selling tiny bunches of flowers or herbs that they had clearly picked up. It’s not really begging per se – they just were sitting rather lifeless on the curb – in a solid row of about 20 of them. But it was clear that this was how they could earn a few ruples. The Intrepid Traveler says she read that the widows of Veterans were often forced to earn a living this way, since the pensions for soliders were non-existant – but I don’t know for sure. I would have loved to take a photo – but there was something forbidding about them. So – no pictures please.

Neutral Russia 3 – The lines. Ok – it’s a cultural thing – I get it. But I wanted to scream at them – don’t they look at books on queueing theory? It’s nuts. So inefficient, so time wasting, so everywhere!

Neutral Russia 4 – There is a museum guard per room in the museums – and the larger museums using time tracking systems to control who is where when. The guards either walk around or sit – but they are omni-present. And often there are multiple guards – like in front of the Diamond Room. There we counted 4 control points – a ‘guard’ who sat at a guard station, and 3 ladies that were responsible for taking tickets, telling you to sit and wait for your tour to start – and carefully explaining to tourist after tourist that you couldn’t buy tickets there but had to exit the museum in order to get a ticket – and you would have to buy an additional admission ticket to get back in.

Neutral Russia 5 – There are prices for Russians, and prices for non-Russians. It’s not always obvious – but with only a few exceptions, we could tell that prices went up when it became clear we were hardly locals. The few exceptions were extremely welcome however – these were some of our favorite meals and favorite events.

End of the day – Leaving Russia was a relief. Like taking off a heavy back-pack you forgot you were carrying. There was always a feeling that someone was watching, that you were being observed, overheard, criticized, evalutated, measured. It wasn’t always obvious, and we are hardly visible minorities in Russia – but it was still there. I wouldn’t want to be a visible minority in Russia. I felt awkward enough being the loud, boiterous, always smiling person that I am.

I’ve had people read this blog and suggest that I didn’t enjoy my trip to St. Petersburg, or that I wouldn’t go back. And that’s not true. I did enjoy my trip – and I would highly recommend visiting St. Petersburg. The Russians I’ve met re-enacting have all been wonderful fun people – a pleasure to be with. So why are the Russians in St. Petersburg so different. I really can’t answer that question. There were amazingly positive interactions – people helped us with our luggage without question, they got up so we could sit down all the time, and in private they were more than willing to share their stories. It was in public that one could sense the restraint and concern.

Signing off to rest easier – The Soup Lady and her sidekick – the Intrepid Traveler.

Picking up the last few pieces in St. Petersburg

We’ve done 2 to 3 museums a day since we arrived in St. Petersburg – and still have 3 more to see! First on our list is the Museum of Applied Art and Decorative Design.
Click here to see some great photos!

Described as oft overlooked – and well worth a visit – we pin-point it on the map and head out. The building is actually a school of Applied Art – and classes must be finishing up for the term. There are students everywhere – clearly getting marked on their final projects. The museum itself is interesting, but the lack of English signs has us guessing on the exact use of many of the objects. But perhaps their usefulness wasn’t really the point – it’s the level of expertise in design that would appeal to this particular crowd.

The museum was created by a rich industrialist just before the turn of the century – around 1870 – and has, like most of Russia and St. Petersburg, suffered from hard times. Like all the other museums, art was hidden away – first from the Germans – and later from the Soviets. Only now, with “The Thaw” has the work come out of hiding, and been put on display. We admire the ceramic stoves – essential for surviving a St. Petersburg winter, and can’t believe the quality of fabrics over 100 years old.

After visiting the museum, and wandering freely thru the classrooms – we visit the attached art store – and after selecting paintings ranging from $500 to $10,000 – I opt to buy some rather nifty pieces, priced right at $50 each. The art store owner tosses in some prints as well – and we leave happy with our purchases.

Our next stop is either the Museum of Zoology (they have a full whale skeleton) or the Menshikov Palace. Since I’m alone on being interested in whale bones – we opt for the Palace. Built in 1711 – it was the first stone building in St. Petersburg, and is currently decorated in the style known as Petrine Baroque. This much more understated style is in contrast to that of all the other Palaces, which have been restored to a more giltery style from 50 to 60 years later.

Interesting place – I’m not sorry we went, but it’s definitely not on the must see list.

Tonight is our last kick at the can for Theatre – and we’re seeing Don Quixote – the Ballet – not the movie or the opera! And it is something special. Yes – again there are the fab sets, the amazing costumes, the glorious music. But I do think the leads this time are the very very very best we’ve seen! The male role was made famous by Rudolf Nureyev, and while again – I’m no specialist – I thought the male lead we watched fly around the stage was clearly amazing.

Sitting behind us in the nose-bleed section were a class of young (about 12 years old) ballerinas. Clearly inspired by what they saw – you couldn’t ask for better audience members. They clapped and clapped – enjoying every minute.

Wonderful ending for a wonderful day.

Tomorrow is a travel day – we’re going to quickly do some souvenier shopping, then head out to catch the flight to Belgium.

Saying good night – and goodbye to Russia

The Soup Lady and The Intrepid Traveler.