Happy Easter!

Église Sainte-Marie-Madeleine, Paris, January 2011

The Beginning of the End?

Look who’s back!

Yesterday, Vancouver welcomed its first cruise ship in 891 days. Holland America’s Koningsdam stopped for a day at Canada Place, after spending Saturday in Victoria. If ever there was a sign that we are past the pandemic, I’m thinking this is it.

Except we’re not past it. Not really. A sixth wave is on its way and those of us who are immune-compromised or work in health care or have friends or family who are immune-compromised or work in health care or are not yet eligible for vaccines (think babies) know there are still lots of risks. There has been an awful lot of talk about how we have to learn how to live with Covid, which doesn’t seem to give much consideration to those still at high risk of dying of Covid.

That aside, tourism is a billion-dollar industry in Vancouver, and those of us who work in tourism and hospitality welcome the news that our city is once again a safe destination for anyone who wants to visit. The Port of Vancouver has offered shore power to cruise ships since 2009, which means that 60 percent of the ships that dock here can run on lower-emission electrical power while in port instead of their diesel-powered auxiliary engines.

While I was taking this photo, a so-called Freedom Rally was gathering behind me to protest vaccines. I’m not sure what their issue is at this point since all of BC’s remaining restrictions concerning Covid-19 were lifted last week.

As I watched the protestors for a moment, a young man walked past me, wearing a black sweatshirt with the word “Ukraine” in large blue and yellow letters. The irony of the moment made my head spin.

Through My Lens: La Madeleine

Today is Palm Sunday, and I’m posting a photo of Église Sainte-Marie-Madeleine, commonly known as La Madeleine. You’re right, it doesn’t look much like a Christian church. That’s because the building was originally intended to be a temple to celebrate Napoleon’s army. After the fall of Napoleon, King Louis XVIII decided that it would instead become a church dedicated to Mary Magdalene. It was eventually consecrated in 1842. La Madeleine is located in the centre of Paris in the 8e arrondissement.

One interesting bit of trivia about La Madeleine: Frédéric Chopin’s funeral was held here in 1849, and he had requested that Mozart’s Requiem be sung. The Requiem has parts for female voices, but La Madeleine did not allow female members in its choir. Eventually, the church decided it would allow a mixed choir to sing at the service, but only if the women stood behind a black velvet curtain.

Through My Lens: Inside Saint-Gervais and Saint-Protais

Last Sunday, I posted a photo of Église Saint-Gervais and Saint-Protais. For today, the Fifth Sunday of Lent, here’s a photo of its interior. I quite like the look of the wooden stools, though I don’t imagine they’re too comfortable to sit on for an entire church service.

Through My Lens: Burrard Bridge and the Blossoms

April is peak cherry blossom time in Vancouver, but it seems like most of the blossoms have popped in just the past week. I took this photo of Burrard Bridge from Sunset Beach two days ago.

Through My Lens: Église Saint-Gervais and Saint-Protais

Église Saint-Gervais and Saint-Protais is located in the 4e arrondissement of Paris, just steps away from Notre-Dame. The church is named after Saint Gervasius and Saint Protasius, twin brothers from Milan who lived and died, it is believed, during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, last emperor of the Pax Romana. The present building dates back to the fifteenth century. Although its interior is Gothic, the façade (not pictured) is in the French Baroque style.

I took this photo of the back of Église Saint-Gervais and Saint-Protais from Rue des Barres, and it is my photo choice for today, the Fourth Sunday of Lent.

Through My Lens: English Bay Sunset

Here’s what I absolutely love about my neighbourhood: when you walk out the door, you have no idea what awaits you.

This was our sunset two days ago — a welcome sight after many cloudy, rainy days.

Through My Lens: Église Saint-Germain de Charonne

For the Third Sunday of Lent, here is a photo of Église Saint-Germain de Charonne, located in the former village of Charonne, which was annexed by Paris in 1860 and is now part of the 20e arrondissement.

It is believed that the first church on this site was built to commemorate a meeting that took place in 429 between Saint Germain, Bishop of Auxerre, and Saint Geneviève, the patron saint of Paris. Parts of the present structure date back to the twelfth century. The bell tower was added in the fifteenth century. What is most unusual for a church within Paris is that the parish cemetery remains intact, and was still in use as recently as fifty years ago.

Sister Cities, Sister Countries

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. believed that the arc of the moral universe is long but that it bends toward justice. He also knew that there are evil men in the world, who seek to thwart that benign curve and push us all back into darkness. Because of those men, there are moments in history when the great struggle between freedom and tyranny comes down to one fight, in one place, which is waged for all of humanity. In 1863, that place was Gettysburg. In 1940, it was the skies above Britain. Today, in 2022, it is Kyiv. — The Honourable Chrystia Freeland, Deputy Prime Minister of Canada

As I am watching, reading, and doomscrolling these past three weeks, what has surprised me most is the resurfacing of long-buried fears. A lifetime ago, when I was in high school, the marches were about nuclear disarmament, not the climate crisis. We had long class discussions about the chances of a nuclear holocaust wiping out the human species. The last gasp of the Cold War was a fearful time to be a teenager.

Same song, different century.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is reminiscent of another war waged in the last century, but recent enough to bring up familial memories for those of us who came to Canada from Europe. My mother was born in Nazi-occupied Holland. I often wonder what impact living through war the first five years of her life had on her psyche.

What memories of this war will Ukrainian children carry for the rest of their lives?

I have long known that my mother’s family had been forced out of their home by the Nazis for the last winter of World War II. But a month ago, I was shocked to learn that the neighbourhood where they spent that winter underwent an artillery bombardment by the Canadian army in its fight to liberate the city. Pamphlets were dropped from the sky to warn the residents of the upcoming shelling, which went on for hours. Nineteen people died. I was so floored by this revelation that I spent the next week wondering how it was I’d never heard about it.

Floored, because I had also long known that my thirteen-year-old uncle was killed the same day. A stray artillery shell had landed in the street and bits of shrapnel went flying. My mother remembers being thrown down the stairs into a cellar by an uncle after the explosion. But I was never told about a bombardment. How do you forget undergoing an hours-long artillery barrage?

Then I remembered the Sunday afternoon I spent with two cousins some months ago. As we looked through old family photographs, I came across a letter in which a relative of my mom’s described her memories of that day — the day my uncle died. She wrote how the extended family had been all together in one of their homes, but in the next town over. Several relatives were injured that day; the letter writer’s sister had a piece of shrapnel embedded in her leg for years afterwards. Perhaps my mother and her family were there not to celebrate their liberation (as my cousins had always been told), but to escape the shelling where they were living?

It still leaves unanswered questions. How did the family know when it was safe to return home? What was left of that home when they returned?

More than three million Ukrainians are wondering when it will be safe to return to their homes. Are wondering if they have homes to go back to.

When a girlfriend and I travelled around Europe in the mid-1980s, we spent a long, cold night on a Yugoslavian train filled with drunken conscripts on their way to boot camp. That’s how I learned that almost every European country had compulsory military service at the time. That’s when I realized only a simple accident of geography — and my gender — kept me from going through a similar rite of passage.

The NATO-aligned countries abandoned conscription after the end of the Cold War. Ukraine did too, in 2013, and then reinstated it in 2014. We’ve all heard how men aged 18 to 60 are not permitted to leave Ukraine right now. What isn’t getting anywhere near the same attention is that almost a quarter of Ukraine’s soldiers are women. Many of these women are bringing their children to the border, handing them over to distant relatives, and then going back to fight in a war they didn’t want, a war they didn’t ask for.

When you grow up on the Canadian prairies, you are deeply aware of the significance of the Ukrainian-Canadian community, so I was not surprised to learn that Canada has the second-largest diaspora of Ukrainians anywhere in the world. What I did not know is that Vancouver and Odesa have been sister cities since 1944. Like Vancouver, Odesa is a port city. Like Vancouver, it has beauty — its historic centre is a World Heritage site. But unlike Vancouver, it is piling sandbags in front of its monuments and lining its beaches with landmines in anticipation of a Russian attack. Half a million of Odesa’s residents have fled. What is remarkable is that the other half million have stayed.

As we watch the Ukrainian people suffer and die in real time, it is difficult to not feel despair. I fully expect the repercussions of this war to be as consequential as anything we have lived through in our lifetimes. As a teenager, I feared the outcome of a Cold War that had been going on for so long I never expected the Berlin Wall to ever come down. As a child, my mother fled her home and watched bombs rain down on her city right up until the day they danced in the streets to celebrate their liberation.

One day the people of Ukraine will rise up again to celebrate.

Because the alternative is unthinkable.

Vancouver City Hall

Through My Lens: Église Notre-Dame-de-la-Croix de Ménilmontant

One of the advantages of spending time well outside the centre of Paris, as I did one winter, is that on neighbourhood walks you sometimes come across surprises like this church. Église Notre-Dame-de-la-Croix de Ménilmontant is my photo choice for today, the Second Sunday of Lent.

This church was built to accommodate the population growth of Ménilmontant, a neighbourhood in the 20e arrondissement. Construction began in 1863, and was completed in 1880. Its architectural style is what’s known as the Second Empire style, which was popular in France during the reign of Napoleon III. It’s known for combining materials (such as iron and stone) and styles (such as Romanesque and Gothic) in one building.