Category Archives: Music

Taking Stock No.4

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Enjoying a walk through some of Old Quebec’s beautiful, narrow streets.

Hi folks,

As you have probably noticed, I’ve been out of the look since I last wrote to you about our woes with our new downstairs neighbors. They have not gone away and neither has the mental exhaustion caused by the situation. Many times over the pas few months I have found myself dreaming of packing up and moving to an isolated corner of anywhere but here. It would be quite easy to do and no one would ever find me. My name is so common that I wouldn’t even have to change it in order to never be found, even by the aforementioned pesky neighbors should they decide to attempt to hunt me down. That would be a cowardly thing to do though and highly inconvenient for My Darling who is quite attached to his job and his family (it’s not that I’m not attached to my folks, we’re just not even nearly as tight-knit as My Darling’s family is). He did, however, manage to whisk me away to Quebec City with him for a few days when he went there to attend a conference at the beginning of the month, which did me a great deal of good and allowed me to get my creative juices flowing. Then, when we got back, miracle of miracles, Spring appeared and I have been able to spend increasing amounts of time outside. The leaves are all out, the flowers are blooming, I planted my flowers and bought our strawberry plant and I am looking slightly less pasty. Phew…the work downstairs should finally be done next week, which is an excellent thing because I am becoming less and less tolerant of the group of loud, cigarette smoking, belching, cursing men who show up every morning at 7:00 and are present until the end of the afternoon. I want my quiet home back, I to not have to worry about parking in my own driveway for fear of puncturing my tires on a nail or being trapped in my parking space by a delivery of sheet rock or some worker’s pickup truck. For crying out loud, we found a worker’s discarded t-shirt in our parking space this morning! Ugh…Anyhow, I thought one of my ‘Taking Stock’ posts would be a good way for us to catch up and hopefully I will be able to get my creative juices flowing freely enough once things calm down to come back with another post soon. In the mean time though, you can head over to my photography blog Old Orchard Photography for more about my trip to Quebec and to see a few more of the photos I took there.

Enjoying: being able to walk out the door without having to pile on more layers than an onion.
Listening: to The Merry Widow on CBC Radio 2.
Wearing: my GAP striped sundress. I bought it at an outlet store in Las Vegas last Spring and it is my go-to dress as soon as the warm weather rolls around. It is just as comfy as a pair of pajamas, but completely appropriate to wear out around town as well!

Making: time for myself.

Cooking: Korean burgers for My Darling and his friend when they get back from their bike ride.
Drinking: Iced tea made with our Fortnum and Mason teas. We just emptied our jug of Irish Breakfast and I’m going to ice some Countess Grey next.
Feeling: relieved that the renovations downstairs are finally almost finished.
Reading: ‘Her Majesty: 60 Regal Years’ by Brian Hoey, the first biography of The Queen I have ever read and I am thoroughly enjoying it. I have also recently torn through Elizabeth Gilbert’s ‘Big Magic’ as I mentioned in my previous post and Camilla Gibb’s ‘This is Happy’ which I highly recommend.

Looking: forward to my vacation in Poland with My Darling next month.
Wishing: we still had a deaf lady in her 70s for a downstairs neighbor. Boy, do we ever miss Mrs. L.
Liking: eating breakfast with My Darling on the back terrace under our red parasol on weekends.
Waiting: for the next bunch of strawberries growing on our plant to ripen.

Snacking: on dark chocolate raspberry Lärabars
Coveting: some Prince Edward Island therapy. I would wish for August to come quickly, but I want Summer to drag on for ages!
Hearing: no construction noise, praise God.
Learning: to not let myself be intimidated by bullies.

Loving: how My Darling has been perking up since he has been able to take his bike out for long rides again.
Watching: not much, really! It’s been far too nice out to watch TV.
Admiring: nature, it’s amazing how quickly things start growing and blooming when the warm weather finally settles in!
Getting: ready to make my first batch of homemade ice cream of the season! It’s going to be matcha, made with this recipe

Wondering: when I’ll have time to go shopping before our vacation.
Playing: piano when I can, which is not often. Racket downstairs = not conducive to learning a new instrument.
Noticing: how badly I needed my week off two weeks ago to ground myself.
Giggling: over My Darling’s waddle when he walks around in his cycling shoes.

Bookmarking: by folding the corners of the pages of the books I read. I don’t spend enough time online to bookmark sites lol
Deciding: on where we’re going to stay in Warsaw.
Hoping: for less drama in my life
Contemplating: jogging with a group of our local Running Room store when we get back from vacation.

Wanting: a new pair of running capris, I noticed several holes in my favorite pair when I got in from my jog on Thursday…
Thinking: about my dad a lot recently and how happy I am that the lupins I planted in front of his grave three years ago are finally going to flower!
Knowing: that my father would be proud of how I’ve handled the difficult situation with our new neighbors so far.
Opening: my heart to as much kindness from others as I can in order to heal myself from the unkindness I have suffered recently.

Feeling: energized and positive for the first time in months.
Marveling: at how warm, sunny weather can help turn peoples moods around within a matter of days.

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Notre-Dame-des-Victoires (Our Lady of Victories) church in Old Quebec
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Taking Stock No.3

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A partial view of the Cloud Gate and downtown Chicago

Hello everyone!

As you know, I enjoy doing these taking stock posts four times per year, it is a practice I picked up from fellow blogger Ashley over at Sed Bona. This will be my third post of this kind and I really look forward to doing them! Fell free to do some taking stock of your own and if you do, please let me know!

Enjoying: going over and over all the photos I took during My Darling and I’s little four day trip to Chicago last week! I’ve included two of them in this post and if you want to see more of them, go check out my photography blog and feel free to give it a like and a follow!
Listening: to Schubert’s Symphony No.8 in B Minor.
Wearing: my incredibly comfy Wilfred Free top, it’s just like PJs without being PJs, you can see a selection of Wilfred Free tops here.
Making: another scarf for myself. It’s slow going, but I will have it done by next winter!
Cooking: a chocolate orange cake for dessert with some friends tomorrow, recipe here.
Drinking: protein packed smoothies for lunch.
Feeling: better than I have since January, finally!!!
Reading: The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker
Looking: for a blue clutch. I have nothing but black clutches and I would love to have a more cheerfully colored one.
Wishing: my IT band would stop acting up so I can get back to running.
Liking: how much stronger the sun is getting, it’s putting a bit of warmth into our Winter Days!
Waiting: for 19-2 to start up again, it’s one of our favorite TV shows and we miss it!
Snacking: on Chèbrie in other words Brie made with goat’s milk 🙂 Sorry, dear American readers, but you can’t have any! I’ll get arrested if I try to send you some, I kid you not!
Coveting: A Kitchenaid stand mixer and have been for ages!
Hearing: the soothing, bubbling sound of water spilling out of my aquarium’s filter into the tank.
Learning: to play the piano thanks to My Darling.
Loving: Google Play, all the music ever created is at my fingertips and the lion’s share of it is completely free!
Watching: David Starkey’s Music and Monarchy on YouTube, because I can’t get it anywhere else unfortunately.
Admiring: My Darling’s efforts to better balance his personal and work life.
Getting: nervous about all the renovations our neighbors want to do, noise and dust! Joy!
Wondering: when and where we are going to take our Summer vacation.
Playing: Piano Tiles 2, it is ridiculously addictive.
Noticing: that Quinn is getting cuddly in her old age!
Giggling: over Quinn chasing a bug.
Bookmarking: nothing lately.
Deciding: where to hang the painting My Darling got me for my birthday. He says bedroom, I say dining room.
Hoping: that my cake is going to taste as good as it smells!
Contemplating: ways to make a bit of extra money through my photography.
Wanting: the freezing rain to stop falling outside before the city ends up looking like this again:

Montreal during the ice storm of 1998, image credit: CBC news

Thinking: I’m ready for dinner.
Knowing: my dinner will not make itself and delivery is not an option in this weather!
Opening: a bottle of wine so I can enjoy a glass or two while waiting for My Darling to come home from his conference.
Feeling: very accomplished, it has been a productive day!
Marveling: at how much more in control and organized I have been feeling lately.

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The stunning Tiffany glass dome in the Chicago Cultural Center

My grandfather’s tree and some favorites

Good news everyone: my darling and I walked past my Grandfather’s maple tree (that’s how I’ve come to think of it) yesterday and it is still standing! I’m hoping this means that the arborist who was supposed to give a second opinion declared that the old fellow is well enough to be saved, because another very large, old, Silver Maple around the corner from my grandfather’s tree was cut down just a few days ago and Grandpa’s tree is still standing. At least when the city must take down such ancient, stately trees, they leave posters tacked to the trunk of the tree explaining why the tree had to be cut down and evidence of the tree’s illness so locals aren’t left wondering why their much loved trees have been felled. and at least if my Grandfather’s tree does end up being cut down in the near future, I was able to take a series of photos of it, of which I am happy to chare a few.

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The bottom of Old Orchard Avenue with my Grandfather’s tree on the right.
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A closeup of my Grandfather’s tree that give you an idea of just how wide its trunk is.

On another note, it has been ages since I’ve shared any of my favorites with you. I just haven’t felt up to it and haven’t had the time, but I have a few gems for you today, name this adorable counter vacuum which can be found at Zone stores here in Montreal.

Isn’t he just the cutest thing you’ve ever seen??? My brother and his wife had one just like him and I had been coveting one for at least a year but my Darling felt that ia counter vacuum was a useless gadget that would do nothing but take up valuable counter space. First of all, he clearly has no concept of how many little crumbs can be created while cooking and second of all, we have such a massive kitchen counter that we would need dozens of these little vacuums to fill it up. After my Darling was forced to go into the office for the second Saturday in a row last weeked I was feeling pretty down, so I detoured by Zone after buying some groceries and picked up my very own little mouse vacuum. He is quiet, efficient and elicited some grumbling from my Darling. I told him that if he really hadn’t wanted to end up with a kitchen counter vacuum, he simply should not have gotten himself called into work so that I would not have needed cheering up. I named my little mouse friend Brie and he has already made himself more than useful. If you’re like me and love cooking but hate having to sponge down your counter after spilling a bit of flour or other miscellaneous kitchen crumbs on it every time you cook, you should really look into getting one of these little guys. They also come in ladybug format and are about the size of a standard computer mouse.

Another one of my current favorites is a wonderful classical music album which is perfect for chasing away the Winter Blues: Vivaldi’s Four Seasons recomposed by Max Richter.

 

Richter takes the much-loved favourite and tweaks it just enough to give it a contemporary feel but best of all, there are long recordings of bees, blowing wind, bubbling brooks and birdsong so that you can very easily imagine yourself in the middle of a beautiful, lush, green field surrounded by early Spring wildlfowers. Absolute, pure bliss when you are in the dead of Winter and I find that it is an even more effective pick-me-up in February when I begin to feel that Spring is getting close but is still annoyingly out of reach.

And finally, if you are looking for a nice, light read that will have you giggling out loud, I just started reading the absolutely delightful ‘A Night In with Audrey Hepburn’ by Lucy Holliday.

The link above will send you to the Chapters/Indigo Books website for my Canadian readers,  but the book can be found at any bookshop and is so worth it if you are looking for some very easy laughs, but be aware that you will laugh out loud while reading this book. I kept having to relate the funny bits to my Darling yesterday while we were reading on the couch together, so be prepared to explain your fits of giggles to anyone you are reading around!

In which I admit to having an up-and-down relationship with Christmas

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My first Christmas

When I was little, I was crazy about Christmas. What kid wouldn’t be when they were fortunate enough to grow up in a stable, loving family environment with two parents who were crazy about each other, four adoring grandparents who spoiled them silly in every sense of the word (all the hugs and kisses you could want and sweets and toys galore), aunts, uncles and cousins to goof around with and nothing in the world to worry them. I remember that the two weeks I had off from school at Christmas every year were so completely different from the rest of the year, they were so filled with love and fun and magic that by the time I went back to school, I felt like I had been out of my routine for a solid year.

Things changed early in my teenage years though. My maternal grandparents, who had been central to my upbringing and had showered me with more affection than words can express, moved to California when my grandfather got his last transfer before he retired (yes, I had very young grandparents, they were all in their early to mid 50s when I was born). I was fourteen at the time and I cried for weeks after they left and after that, Christmas was never the same. They split their holidays between my family in Montreal and my aunt’s family in Toronto, so one year they would spend Christmas with us and do New Year’s in Toronto and the following year it would be the other way around. It was a huge change for me and that is when I started feeling lonely at Christmas. It got far worse when my parents split up about five years after my grandparents moved away. I decided to live with my mother, but my brother moved in with my father when he eventually got his own place and family tiffs would begin months in advance over who was going to celebrate Christmas when and with whom on the years when my maternal grandparents were in town. Unfortunately my brother and I were not in a situation where where big collective family Christmases were an option. I often ended up in tears and I would even get snappish with my grandmothers when they would start talking about the Holiday arrangements at the end of Summer.

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My brother and I, Christmas 1990 or 1991

I was hoping that things would get better once I moved out on my own, but they only got worse. I would end up alone on Christmas Eve every other year and wouldn’t see any family at all until Christmas Day and would then be alone again until New Year’s Day. I very rarely had anyone to celebrate with on New Year’s Eve. I tried going out for walks in Mount Royal Park or to the movies in town to break the monotony of it all, but I would return home feeling more depressed than ever because all I would see everywhere were families celebrating the Holidays together. Let me tell you this: being alone at the Holidays is the worst kind of solitude you can feel. It gets to the point where you just was to lock yourself away in your home with nary a Christmas decoration in sight until the whole thing is over because everywhere you are, you are hit in the face with images of what you do not have: someone to share it with. Even when I worked through Christmas Eve I would feel unbearable lonely the minute my shift was over at 2:00 A.M. because most of my colleagues were heading straight off to join their family celebrations and I was getting on the bus home back to my apartment, which was empty except for my cats. I would get home, curl up with my cats and cry.

Then the worst thing of all happened: my father died. He was so unwell on Christmas Day in 2012 that he wasn’t able to join us at my aunt and uncle’s place. We decided to have a second Christmas celebration for him on Epiphany (January 6th) and he barely made it to that. He passed away about three weeks later.

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My father at Christmas a few years before he passed away.

At this point, I had had it with Christmas and when it came time to chose my vacation dates for 2013-2014 I decided to not take the week between Christmas and New Year’s off. I couldn’t have guessed that by the time Christmas rolled around, I would have had a burn out and quit my full-time job and also that my Darling would finally have decided that he was willing to put me through the introduction process into his very traditional Polish family, but I am so infinitely grateful that he did, because I don’t know how I would have made it through my first Christmas without my father otherwise.

I am slowly beginning to reconcile myself with Christmas, but it has not been easy. I have yet to wake up on Christmas Eve without crying and even though my in-laws, especially my mother in-law, do their best to make me feel welcome at their Christmas Eve celebration and my nieces and nephew fill the evening with cheer, they are not my traditions and I feel slightly out of place and oh-so nostalgic for the Christmas Eves of my childhood. The ones where my maternal grandparents would bring my brother and I to Midnight mass ahead of our parents so that my parents could help Santa lay out our gifts. I miss sitting around the tree with my family, I miss singing carols at church with them. I miss the later traditions as well, the ones we barely got used to, like my father handing out the gifts at my aunt and uncle’s place. I miss seeing his handwriting on his gift labels and reading the Christmas card he would send me. I inherited all of his Christmas ornaments though, all the ones I grew up with. Now that my Darling has moved in with me, we have gotten a natural Christmas tree two years in a row (no way could I have gotten one of them into my home by myself!) . It has done wonders for me to be able to have a real tree like I did when I was little and to hang so many of the ornaments I remember from my childhood in it along with my own.

Along with his ornaments, I inherited my father’s collection of CDs, including his Christmas albums and I created a huge, hours long playlist with his Christmas music and mine last year. Among them are pieces from a recording of a concert we attended together at Notre-Dame Basilica featuring Bruno Pelletier accompanied by the Montreal Symphony Orchestra in 2003.

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I have also started writing and sending out my own Christmas cards and I always, always bring Christmas wreaths to my father and grandfather at the cemetery and ask my father to help me be happy and my grandfather to help my grandmother.

I know that compared to others I am very fortunate. I have happy memories of Christmas from my childhood and have always had someone to celebrate with on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Some people have never even had that or have had it very rarely. That’s what makes the holidays so bittersweet though, having had so much happiness and then losing it and trying to get it back. What I am coming to terms with is that Christmas will never be as it was when I was little. The best I can do is to take those wonderful memories, cherish them and use them to create my own happy Christmases. I am striving to do that. It doesn’t mean that I can’t be sad or miss my loved ones, it wouldn’t be normal if I didn’t miss them, but I can also show them what I am doing to keep sharing Christmas with them even though they are no longer here or, for my aunts and uncles and cousins, that I am thinking of them even though we spend the holidays far apart. It may not be easy, but it is a start and I’m hoping to smile a bit more and cry a bit less every year.

St.Joseph’s Oratory

Sometimes, no matter how much you want to, you just can’t write and that’s what has been going on with me lately, largely because of the events in Paris last week. I had a pretty strong post coming along in my head, but after the attacks, it just seemed so trivial. I’m normally a very happy, positive, fun-loving person and I strive to reflect that here on my blog, so I suppose that’s why I got writers block. I just wasn’t feeling like myself, but I think I’ve started to work that out of my system. That and after a visit to St.Joseph’s Oratory on Monday, I knew that the Oratory was just what I needed to write about. I have always had a thing for churches and although I have visited many stunning churches in Europe, the United States and at home here in Canada, the Oratory is still my favorite. It may not be a jaw dropper in terms of its interior, but in my mind that only adds to its charm. Also, its impressive size and the number of steps there are from street level up to the Basilica on the top floor makes the competition look silly ”You’re flamboyant neo-gothic? Well, I have 283 steps up to my front porch, so there!”. And fear not, if stairs are not your thing, there’s a shuttle bus to replace the first 99 stairs. It gets you to the main entrance level and then there are escalators and elevators inside, or more staircases. They just want to make sure there’s something for everyone, you know?

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St. Joseph’s Oratory seen from street level in early Spring.

So, how did we end up with this beautiful shrine in Montreal? It all started with this fella, Brother André.

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This bronze statue of St. Brother André can be found beside what is left of the original Oratory.

He came to Montreal in 1870 to join the Catholic order of Holy Cross brothers, whose novitiate was housed in Notre-Dame-Du-Sacré-Coeur College (that’s a private high school, we call them colleges here in Québec), just across the street from where the Oratory is now.

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A partial view of Notre-Dame-Du-Sacré-Coeur college all decked out for Christmas. The school has existed on its present site since 1869.

The brothers almost didn’t keep Brother André past his novitiate because of his frail health, but the bishop of Montreal at the time, Mgr. Bourget, intervened on his behalf after being impressed by André’s piousness and his strong desire to remain with the order and he took his perpetual vows in 1874. Lucky for the Order that the Bishop intervened, because Brother André turned out to be more than just your average Brother! His health was delicate (he was born with an undiagnosed stomach ailment that stayed with him throughout his life and prevented him from eating normally) and he didn’t have the necesary education to teach like the other brothers, so he was made the porter of the school and its Jack-of-all-trades. His tasks included helping out in the infirmary and one day a rumor started going around that a seriously ill student had been inexplicably and suddenly cured after Brother André had sat with him and they had prayed to St. Joseph together. St.Joseph, that’s a statue of him in the picture below, is a Saint of the Catholic church who is known for curing the sick and infirm, among other things.

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The Statue of St-Joseph that stands in the Oratory’s Votive chapel. The chapel holds 10 000 votive lamps and this stand alone contains 3500. Each candle that is lit in the chapel represents the prayer of a pilgrim.

Now, St.Joseph is a pretty popular guy and yes, that’s the same Joseph as the one made famous for marrying the virgin Mary and raising Jesus, so when word started getting around that Brother André seemed to have some sort of a direct line to him, people started showing up at Notre-Dame College asking for him. When he was at his doorkeeper’s post that wasn’t too much of a problem, especially at first when there weren’t too many pilgrims (people who travel somewhere specifically for prayer), but French Canadians in the late 19th Century were a pretty pious lot and soon the parents of the boys living at the school began complaining to Brother André’s superiors about the pilgrims who were taking the liberty of wandering around the school in order to look for Brother André when he was not in his porter’s cell. The issue was that a lot of these people were suffering from, or had been in close contact with people who were suffering from infectious diseases which were very difficult to treat at the time, such as influenza, diphtheria, scarlet fever, polio and tuberculosis and there was legitimate fear of the boys who boarded at the school being contaminated by germs. The Holy Cross order and Brother André knew that turning Pilgrims away not an option, so the order eventually gave Brother André permission to build a small oratory in honor of St.Joseph on a piece of land they owned across the street from Notre-Dame College. And voilà! we have the beginning of what was one day to become the largest shrine in the world dedicated to St.Joseph!

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The 1904 (behind the steeple) and 1910 (from the steeple frontwards) sections of the original oratory.

Cute, isn’t it? There was a problem though, Brother André only had 200$, which us equivalent to about 5o00$ nowadays, with which to build his Oratory. He put every last penny he had saved giving 5 cent haircuts at the College over a 34 year period to get the chapel built and it was too small. The oratory opened its doors for the first time on October 19th of 1904 and by Winter the pilgrims were showing up to see Brother at Notre-Dame again because there was only room for 8 people at a time in the chapel and even if they could get inside the building, it was unheated. Brother André and a few of his most loyal friends began collecting donations and in under six years they were able to not only install a wood burning stove but also to enlarge the Oratory twice, first to seat 50 people and then 200. The building was still prone to chronic overcrowding however, so Brother André and his friends continued to raise funds and in 1914, work began on the Crypt-Church, which opened in 1917 and could seat 750 people. To this day, it is the busiest church on the site and the busiest Catholic church I know of anywhere in Canada. There are 7 to 8 masses a day said at the Oratory and all of them except for two on Sundays are said in the Crypt-Church.

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The choir section of the Crypt-Church seen during a concert. The Crypt-Church gets its name from the fact that the Basilica was originally planned to be built directly on top of it, so it has a low ceiling supported by flattened steel arches.

Brother André knew that the Crypt-Church wouldn’t be able to hold all the masses of Pilgrims flocking to the shrine to pray St-Joseph for long though, so in 1924 work began on the Basilica, a huge church that could originally, before seats were put in and crowd regulation laws were put into place, hold 10 000 pilgrims. The Basilica took 43 years to complete because, as with the rest of the enlargements to the original shrine, it was built with donations and it was first a victim of the Great Depression and then of shifting values. It was opened for its first service in 1955 and Brother André, who passed away in 1937 at the age of 91, never got to see it completed. The interior of the Basilica was completed in 1967 in a Medieval inspired Art Deco style.

Nowadays, the Basilica seats 1 750 pilgrims on a regular Sunday, or 1 870 when chairs are added in for special occasions. Mass is said in the Basilica on Sunday mornings at 11:00 A.M. with music provided by its impressive 5811 pipe, 78 stop Beckerath organ and its boys’ choir the Petits Chanteurs du Mont-Royal and again at 12:30 P.M. It is also used for major feast days such as Christmas, Easter and St-Joseph’s feast day on March 19th. Otherwise, seeing as regular weekday masses are attended by anywhere between 50 to 200 pilgrims at a time, the Crypt-Church is used.

All this talk of overflow may make the Oratory sound like a very busy place, it is actually very, very peaceful and there is a beautiful energy that surrounds it as soon as you set foot inside the grounds. I’m very, very fortunate to have such a beautiful place in my neighborhood and I have been to it many, many times when I was in need of comfort and peace. If ever you are in Montreal, I cannot encourage you strongly enough to visit the Oratory, even though it is a bit off the beaten tourist trail. It is quite easy to reach by public transit since two bus lines stop right in front of it (the 51 and 166) and a very major bus line stops just one corner away (the 165-435 line, the second number is the express number for rush hour). Don’t pass up a chance to visit this unique place, because believe me, you will be sorry! And yes, as with the rest of the city, it is beautiful year-round!

Now, a note about the photos in this post: you will have noticed that they are watermarked with my real name. The reason for this is that I have put some of my photos up for sale on a decorative print producer’s site that is local to Quebec photographers, but ships all over the world. When doing this, I was strongly encouraged to create a photography website, which I did. Please, feel free to visit it here and follow it! Having to watermark my photos twice was such a major hassle that I decided to bite the bullet and put my name on here. I refrained from doing this before because while I don’t care if my family knows that I have a photography blog, there are a very, very few members of my family who have been quite nasty to me on social media before, so nasty that I blocked them from my Facebook account. I don’t need that sort of grief on here when it comes to my writing and opinions. If it’s from some random reader I won’t ever have to meet face to face, I don’t care, but nastiness from family is a bitter pill to swallow, especially when you occasionally have to sit down at the same dinner table as them, hence the pseudonym. I’m keeping it on my Gravatar account and have a seperate Gravatar and e-mail address for the photography blog, so I should be good, but I just wanted to clarify the change with you folks!

 

Evensong at the chapel of King’s College, Cambridge

King's College and its famous chapel seen from across the River Cam
King’s College and its famous chapel seen from across the River Cam

Okay, so if I wasn’t conscious of the fact that long titles are a drag, this post would be entitled ‘The Day I (Finally) Heard the Choir of King’s College in Person and Was Pretty Sure I Had Died and Gone to Heaven’, or something like that, because oh my gosh this choir…words cannot describe how incredibly talented this group of boys, sixteen of them, aged between 8 and 13 and young men, fourteen undergraduate students at King’s College, typically aged between 18 and 22, are.The choir has existed since the foundation of King’s College by King Henry VI in 1441 and to this day their main task is to sing during the daily services held in the college chapel. If you want to read more about the choir, you can visit their site here which is also a good place to listen to recordings of the choir.

How did I hear about these boys and become so entranced by them you may be wondering? It happened while I was working at the Classical department of the HMV store on Ste.Catherine Street in Downtown Montreal when I was in University, which was honest to goodness one of the best jobs I ever had, I think I actually enjoyed it more than being a tour guide, because while I love my job, I’ve been obsessed with Classical music ever since I can remember. My parents didn’t force me into it, I just remember sitting on the floor in my bedroom one day when I was little, fiddling with the dial and landing on CBC Radio 2, which was all Classical at the time and I got hooked. My mom used to brag about it, like ‘Hey, my kid sits there for hours listening to Tchaikovsky and Beethoven, what does yours do?’. I’ve been passionate about music ever since then, so naturally, when I was job hunting during my first year in university and HMV had seasonal openings I dropped off my CV and wrote down on the application form that I wanted to work in the Classical department. Not many people asked to work up there, except for people who mistakenly thought that ‘Classical’ meant Elvis and the Beatles, so I got the job in the blink of an eye and with that, the free run of the department and employee pricing on every single album and DVD in the entire store. Ask me how I ended up with hundreds of CDs in my house and I will tell you no lies. It was while working in the department that I picked up my first recording of the choir’s, ‘Heavenly Voices’ and I thought they were pretty darn good, so I then bought their 2000 recording of ‘Carols form King’s’ on DVD and boom, I was hooked and then some. Hearing the choir on a compilation CD was one thing, but to hear and see one single formation (the choir changes a bit every year when new boys and men enter and leave) is absolutely divine and of course, the chapel itself is drop dead gorgeous, especially when the boys sing by candlelight.

Stephen Cleobury giving the choir some pointers.
The choir singing below the magnificent fan vaulting of the chapel of King’s College.

From the time I watched that DVD making it to Cambridge to see the choir sing in person was on my bucket list, so when booked a ticket to London in the first week of December last year, I made darn sure that the choir would be singing during my time in the UK so I could go over to Cambridge and hear them because there was no way I was flying back across the Atlantic without having seen them. My Darling who, funnily enough, was part of Montreal’s most famous boys’ choir, Les Petits Chanteurs du Mont-Royal for their full eight year program, barely knew about the choir and was less than keen to hop on a train for a day trip outside of London when he was only going to be there for four days since he was coming to join me after visiting family in Poland. I insisted that he would regret it his entire life if he didn’t come with me to Cambridge though and he skeptically agreed and I bought us two tickets. We spent the day visiting the town on our own and then with a tour guide and Cambridge was everything I had imagined it would be and more.

The Christmas Market in Cambridge's town square.
The Christmas Market in Cambridge’s town square.
Vines growing in the courtyard of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.
Vines growing in the courtyard of Corpus Christi College.
Tourists punting on the River Cam.
Tourists punting on the River Cam.
A bicycle waiting for its owner in the portico of Trinity College.
A bicycle waiting for its owner in the portico of Trinity College.
The statue of Henry VIII above the portico of Trinity College.
The statue of Henry VIII above the Great Gate of Trinity College.

After our guided tour, my Darling and I popped into a cafe our guide had recommended to us, Fitzbillies, which is famous for its Chelsea buns. They were unfortunately out of them by the time we got there, but their amazing ganache based hot chocolate and warm, moist scones more than made up for that!

After our snack, it was finally time to head over the King’s College for Evensong.

The chapel of King's College seen from King's Parade road.
The chapel of King’s College seen from King’s Parade road.

I was worried there might be a massive lineup, but it was a quiet day and one of the locals reassured me that there was room for the entire town in the chapel. I was skeptical, but when I got inside, I saw that he was right, although about half the townspeople would have been on the rear side of the choir screen and would not have been able to the choir. The sight of the chapel on the inside is absolutely breathtaking. It is much larger than what I had imagined from the photos and videos I had seen of it, especially in terms of its height and the fan vaulting on the ceiling is absolutely amazing. Finally, the choir filed it and as soon as they began to sing, I got goosebumps and teared up and promptly looked up at the ceiling to keep myself from crying like an idiot. As for my darling, I looked over at him and saw that he was listening to the boys sing with his eyes closed, a very good sign indeed. After the service ended, as my Darling and I were walking to the train station to head back to London, he thanked me for convincing him to come along on our day trip and he has since become just as much of a King’s groupie as I am. We left the town with the most recent ‘Carols from King’s’ DVD, which is of the choir’s 2013 Nine Lessons and Carols service as well as the Choir’s recording of Fauré’s Requiem. The CD has been in our CD player ever since. Don’t worry, we don’t listen to it on a loop, it’s a five disk changer! One thing is for sure though, when my Darling needs help relaxing after a particularly stressful day at work, he puts on his headphones and listens to it.

If you’re interested in discovering the Choir of King’s College, I highly recommend that you start out by listening to their ‘Favorite Carols from King’s album and if you enjoy it, you should move on to Evensong Live 2015, which is a pretty good sampling of sacred choral music throughout history. I also highly, highly recommend that you watch the documentary below about the choir and all the preparations that surround their annual BBC broadcast of Carols from King’s since it gives a very good glimpse into the daily lives of the choristers and the history of the choir and finally, I’m also including a clip of the choir singing one of my favorite contemporary carols of theirs, The Shepherd’s Carol, which was composed for the choir by a former chorister, Bob Chilcott.