Friday, September 22, 2017

First Day of Autumn: Thoughts and Quotations

Today is the first day of autumn.  I revel in the season and the beautiful fall foliage.  For me, the delights of fall include the crisp autumn air, Canadian Thanksgiving, the World Series, the beginning of the hockey season, the pungent aroma of pumpkins and the shiny orange Harvest Moon.  Autumn, however, is bittersweet.  The trees will soon be bare and year's death is approaching. Such are the rhythms of life.

Here are some thoughts on the day of the autumn equinox:

Summer ends, and Autumn comes, and he who would have it otherwise would have high tide always and a full moon every night; and thus he would never know the rhythms that are at the heart of life.

Essentially, autumn is the quiet completion of spring and summer. Spring was all eagerness and beginnings, summer was growth and flowering. Autumn is the achievement summarized, the harvested grain, the ripened apple, the grape in the wine press. Autumn is the bright leaf in the woodland, the opened husk on the bittersweet berry, the fruit of asters at the roadside. 

Another equinox occurs, and by those charts and markers we use to divide time and measure our lives, today is autumn.  For a little while now, days and nights will be almost equal, dawn to dusk, dusk to dawn, and the sun will rise and set almost true east and west.  Then it will be October, tenth month of our twelve-month year, and moving toward the winter solstice.  

So much for the arbitrary boundaries, which are for the almanacs and the record books., even less imperative than the figures on a sundial.  The autumn with which we live is as variable as the wind, the weather, the land itself.  Its schedule is that of the woodland trees, the wild grasses, the migrant birds. 

- Hal Borland (1900-1978), American author, journalist and naturalist

"I'm dreading fall.  It is a terrifying season," he says . . . "Everything shriveling up and dying."  I don't know how to answer.  Fall has always been my favorite season.  The time when everything bursts with its last beauty; as if nature had been saving up all year for the grand finale.  I've never thought to be frightened of it.

- Lauren DeStefano (1984- ), American author
From Wither (The Chemical Garden. Book 1) [2011]

You expected to be sad in the fall.  Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and cold, wintry light.  But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen.  when the cold rains kept on and killed the spring, it was as though a young person died for no reason.

Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961), American author
From A Moveable Feast

Autumn seemed to arrive suddenly that year. The morning of the first September was crisp and golden as an apple.

- J.K. Rawling (1965- ), British author
From Harry Potter adn the Deathly Hallows

- Joanne

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Notes From a Film Lover

I am, and have always been, an unabashed movie fan.  The city of Toronto, where I live, is a great locale for film buffs.  Right now, the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is underway.  TIFF is one of the largest publicly attended festivals on the planet.  It was founded in 1976 as "The Festival of Festivals," at time when Hollywood studios shunned North American festivals. Since then, TIFF has morphed into one of the world's greatest celebrations of film and filmmaking, attracting movie fans and film stars from around the globe.

Toronto is a wonderful place for documentary lovers too and it is home to the Rogers Hot Doc Cienema.  The Hot Doc Festival takes place in late April and early May at various theatres in the city, including, of course, the Rogers Hot Doc.

Often times, I lament the demise of the traditional movie theatres in my hometown.  To me, the majestic old theatres were the best.  However, the days of beautiful decor and grand balconies are long gone.  Very few have survived in Toronto and some have been turned into "Pottery Barns" and pharmacies ("Shoppers Drug Mart").  It pains me to think what has happened to those magnificent cinemas but there is no going back.

For years, theatre companies, especial Cineplex/Odeon, have been showing multiple films at once because they want to make as much profit as possible.  Cineplex is much too corporate for my taste. I resent having to sit through a half hour of mostly commercials before the main feature begins.  I wish I could watch a cartoon or a movie short instead.

There often isn't much choice but to view the ads, particularly on a busy Saturday night.  If you don't settle into your seats early, there may only be single seats in the front rows left by the time the "preshow" ends and the actual movie begins.

As for Cineplex's fancy VIP theatres with food and wine served to your seats, I could do without that. Popcorn is good enough for me.  I prefer to dine at a restaurant.  Unfortunately, though, the prices at Cineplex concession standards are outrageously exorbitant.  I call it highway robbery. You pay twice as much as for the same items at a convenience store.

One thing I really like about Cineplex, however, is the stadium seating.  I am small and I dread having a tall person sit in front of me at other theatres.  For taller people, there is lots of space and leg room at Cineplexes.

Anyway, in these times of Trump, climate change and  hurricanes, we are in dire need of some harmless escapism and a distraction.  So, pass the popcorn, please.  The next feature is about to begin.

- Joanne

Saturday, September 2, 2017

How To Help Your Child Learn To Read

Do you want to foster a good learning environment for your children?  Here is a very informative infographic on helping children to read.  It provides tips on the best ways for children to learn.  It also explains reading problems that they encounter (dyslexia, ADHD etc.) and recommends children's books .  I hope you find it helpful and that it provides you with some insight.

- Joanne

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Movies That Make You Feel Claustrophobic

The following infographic describes films that make you feel claustrophobic.  It contains some fascinating facts and quotes related to the films, which are also rated according to their claustrophobic factor.  This infographic is fun and entertaining, especially for movie buffs.  I hope, however, that you find it enjoyable and informative, whether you are a film fan or not.

- Joanne


Movies That Make You Feel Claustrophobic by Storage Centres.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Movie Nightmares

Are you a fan of horror movies or suspense thrillers?  If so, then this infographic for you.  It is a compendium of some of the most terrifying films that have been frightening audiences for years.  It contains some fun facts about movies such as The Shining and Psycho.  If you enjoy the horror genre, you will be entertained and amused by this inforgraphic.

- Joanne

Movie Nightmares infographic
Movie Nightmares infographic by Mattress Online.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

International Left-Handers Day

"Life without left-handed people wouldn't be right."

- C.R. Manske, Brazilian-born, Florida-based author of The Making of Fredda Buttler and The Left-Handed People

"If the left half of the brain controls the right half of the body then only left handed people are in the right mind."

- Attributed to W.C. Fields, American comedian

Today, August 13, is International Left-Handers Day.  It is celebratd to draw attention to the challenges and difficulties experienced by left-handers in a world overwhelmingly right-handed. The day was first observed on August 13, 1976 by Left-Handers International, which bills itself as "the world's leading publisher of left-handed information and media." 

 Although I am not left-handed myself, I have some close relatives who are lefties.  This has made me aware of the inconveniences they face in performing simple tasks such as using scissors, cutting food with a knife, spiral notebooks, desks, game controllers and baseball gloves.


Leonardo da Vinci  (1452-1519) - Italian artist, scientist, inventor

Paul McCartney (1942 - ) - British singer, songwriter, musician, former Beatle

Prince William, Duke of Cambridge (1982 - ) - Second in the line of succession to the British throne

George Herman "Babe" Ruth (1895-1948) - American baseball great.  Babe Ruth batted and threw with his left hand, but wrote with his right hand.  He began his career as a left-handed catcher at St. Mary's Industrial School for Boys in Baltimore.  Left-handed catchers are rare and the school only had a catcher's glove for a right-hander, so young George would have to catch the ball with his left hand.  If a base runner attempted to steal, he would toss the glove aside, catch the ball and throw it to second base with his left hand.  Ruth, however, wrote with his right hand, so it is probably more accurate to call him ambidextrous.

David Bowie (1947-2016) - British singer, songwriter, actor

Jennifer Lawrence (1990 - ) - American actress

Photo Attribution: Gage Skidmore

Henry Ford (1863-1947) - American automobile manufacturer

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) - Austrian-born classical composer.  Mozart is though by some to have been left-handed.  Others think he was ambidextrous.

Pelé (1940 - ) - Brazilian football (soccer) great

Neil Armstrong (1930-2012) - American  astronaut, first human to walk on the moon

Tom Cruise (1962 - ) - American actor

Oprah Winfrey (1954 - ) - American television host, producer

Marie Curie (1867-1934) - Polish and naturalized French scientist, conducted pioneering research on radioactivity


Bill Gates (1955 - ) - American business magnate, founder of Microsoft

Photo Attribution:

W.C. Fields (1880-1946) - American comedian, actor

Judy Garland (1922-1969) - American singer and actress

Left handed or ambidextrous U.S. presidents
  • James A. Garfield. (1831-1881) 20th.president - Determining left-handed president before the 20th century is a daunting task.  Left-handedness was frowned upon and lefties were often forced to give up their natural inclination and use their right hand. That may have been the case with Garfield. 
  • Herbert Hoover. (1874-1964) 31st.president
  • Harry S. Truman. (1884-1972) 33rd president
  • Gerald Ford. (1913-2006) 38th president
  • Ronald Reagan. (1911-2004) 40th president - Reagan was reported to be totally left-handed, but was forced to switch at an early age.
  • George H.W. Bush. (1924-) 41st president
  • Bill Clinton. (1946- ) 42nd president
  • Barack Obama. (1961- ) 44th.president

L to R: Ford, Clinton and Obama

Note: James Garfield, Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan are regarded as ambidextrous, or having the ability to write with either hand.


* Roughly 10-12 per cent of the world's population is estimated to be left-handed.

* More males are left-handed than females.

* The word "sinister" is derived from the Latin "sinestra,"  It originally meant "left" but acquired meanings of evil, malicious or unlucky.

* Left-handed people are called "southpaws."  "Southpaw" is an American sports term referring especially to a left-handed pitcher in baseball.  According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, there is a popular theory that "late 19th-century ballparks were laid out so that the pitcher looked in a westerly direction when facing the batter. The throwing arm of a left-handed pitcher would then be to the south-hence the name southpaw"  However, Miriam-Webster states that the term was used as early as 1848 as a simple description for the left hand or a punch or blow delivered with the left hand.

- Joanne

EDITOR'S NOTE (Friday, September 8, 2017):  A reader has asked me to include a popular Indian actor, Amitabh Bachchan, in my list of famous left-handed people.  Amitabh Bachchan is known for his roles in "Bollywood" films.  He also portrayed a Jewish character, Meyer Wolfsheim, in the 2013 version of The Great Gatsby, starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

 Amitabh Bachchan   Photo Attribution:

Friday, July 28, 2017

John McCain: Profile in Courage

"I hope we can again rely on humility, on our need to cooperate, on our dependence on each other to learn how to trust each other again and by so doing better serve the people who elected us."

"Let's trust each other. Let's return to regular order. We've been spinning our wheels on too many important issues because we keep trying to find a way to win without help from across the aisle. That's an approach that's been employed by both sides, mandating legislation from the top down, without any support from the other side, with all the parliamentary maneuvers that requires."

"What have we to lose by trying to work together to find those solutions? We're not getting much done apart. I don't think any of us feels very proud of our incapacity. Merely preventing your political opponents from doing what they want isn't the most inspiring work. There's greater satisfaction in respecting our differences, but not letting them prevent agreements that don't require abandonment of core principles, agreements made in good faith that help improve lives and protect the American people."

Above are three excerpts from John McCain's impassioned speech to the United States Senate on
Tuesday, July 25, 2017.  McCain's speech was a much-needed plea for civility and decency in American politics.  His was a welcome voice in the terrible Age of Trump.  This 80 year old man, recently diagnosed with brain cancer, stood before the American people and renounced the polarizing politics of President Donald J. Trump.

Then, in the early hours of Friday, July 28, 2017, McCain and two female Republicans senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, combined to defeat a pared-down bill to repeal the Affordable Health Act, commonly known as Obamacare.  They rebelled at the way this so-called "skinny repeal" bill was being rammed down the throats of Americans with little consultation and bipartisan input..  They refused to succumb to threats and bullying.  As, a result, much to the disappointment and consternation of Tea Party Republicans, the bill was defeated by a vote of 49-51.  It was a dramatic moment and a crushing defeat for Donald Trump and his politics of intimidation.

John McCain is a conservative American and I am a Canadian of mostly liberal persuasion.  I was pleased when Barack Obama defeated him for the presidency of the United States in 2008.  However, Senator McCain did something heroic and courageous on July 28 and I admire him for it.  Unlike some spineless Republicans, he did not put partisan politics about the national good.

McCain, a naval aviator, was shot down during the Vietnam War.  He was a prisoner of war and held captive for five years in Hanoi.  He refused early release despite being beaten repeatedly.  Yet Donald Trump had the unmitigated gall to say, "He's not a war hero.  He's a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren't captured."

Even the most vocal opponents of the war in Vietnam can see that John McCain has the courage of his convictions.  This is a man who endured five years of torture as a POW.  No wonder he refused to be bullied by the likes of Donald Trump.  Toward the end of his speech, McCain turned to criticize Trump.  He declared that the Senate was not to bow down to a  Republican president. “Whether or not we are of the same party, we are not the president's subordinates. We are his equal,” he said. Alluding to to Trump’s campaign mantra, he said, “We don't hide behind walls. We bridge them.”

Obamacare may be flawed, but it is far superior to the bill cobbled together by a group of wealthy white GOP males.  It's time that Republican work together to improve Obamacare, not repeal and replace it.  The repeal of Obamacare would mean that millions of Americans, especially the poor, elderly and vulnerable, would lose their health care coverage.  No one should have to choose between putting  food on the table and paying medical medical bills.

Now that many Americans have enjoyed the benefits of public health coverage, they will not let it slip away easily.  They will not be intimidated.  Most Canadians, including myself, treasure our public health care coverage.  We would never willingly relinquish our government health insurance cards.

- Joanne

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Mata Hari: Spy for Germany or scapegoat for the French military?

"Her real crime, however, was being a woman of loose morals. Mata Hari freely admitted to a long list of lovers, from Paris to Berlin. Not even the British were immune. Her arresting officer said, “She was one of the most charming specimens of female humanity I had ever set eyes on,” and Sir Basil [Thomson} (Scotland Yard's Assistant Commissioner of Police and Head of Special Branch) himself would remember her as “tall and sinuous, with glowing black eyes and a dusky complexion, vivacious in manner, intelligent and quick in repartee.” 

- Don Hollway
From: "Mata Hari: Beauty, Seduction & Espionage"  
History Magazine, January 2016

One hundred years ago yesterday, Mata Hari was convicted of spying for Germany during World War One.  On July 25th, 1917, a French military court sentenced her to death.  Her name has since become synonymous with mysterious and seductive female espionage, but how much is her reputation is deserved?  Was she truly guilty of seditious wartime espionage or was she merely a pawn, a scapegoat for the ineptitude of the French military?  She may have been a spy, but was she a double agent? According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, "the nature and extent of her espionage activities remain uncertain, and her guilt is widely contested."

Maha Hari was the stage name of a Dutch exotic dancer and courtesan.  She was born Margaretha Geertruida "Margreet" Zelle in Leeuwarden in the province of Friesland in the Netherlands on August 7, 1876.  Margaretha was the eldest of the five children of Adam Zelle (October 2, 1840 - March 13, 1910) and his first wife, Antje van der Meulen (April 21, 1842 - May 9, 1891). Margaretha had four brothers:  Johannes Hendriks Zelle (November 26, 1878 - July 10, 1936), Jacob Zelle (November 10, 1879 - December 30, 1955); Arie Anne Zelle (August 9, 1881 - 1955) and Cornelius Coenraad Zelle (August 9, 1881 - May 31, 1956). Note: Biographical references to Mata Hari state that she had three brothers, but a genealogical website lists the names of four brothers, the two youngest being twins).

Adam Zelle, Magaretha's father, was a milliner by trade and owned a hat shop.  He became quite prosperous due to investments in the oil industry and spoiled his young daughter, lavishing much attention on her and sending her to exclusive schools.  In 1889, however, Zelle's speculation in oil shares ended in terrible misfortune. He went bankrupt and departed for The Hague in utter humiliation. Margaretha's parents divorced soon after the bankruptcy and her father remarried in Amsterdam in 1893.  His second wife was Susanna Catherina ten Hove.

Adam Zelle
When Margaretha's mother died in 1891, the family, split up and the 15-year-old was sent to live with her godfather in Sneek, southwest of Leeuwarden.  She eventually left the Sneek household and made her way to the town of Leiden, where she attended a teachers' college and planned to teach kindergarten.  However, a scandal ensued when the college's 51-year-old headmaster began flirting with her.  The were caught in a compromising position and Margaretha's godfather removed her from the school. The disgraced teen then fled to her uncle's home in The Hague.

When she was 18 years old, a restless Margaretha came across a newspaper ad from Captain Rudolph MacLeod (born March 1, 1856).  MacLeod, an army officer stationed in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), was on leave and sought "a girl of pleasant character" for matrimony.  Margaretha boldly replied to the ad and provided a captivating photo of herself, tall, raven-hared and olive-skinned.  The mustachioed military man was intrigued by this brazen young woman. and despite an age gap of more than twenty years, the two wed.

Margaretha married Captain MacLeod in Amsterdam on July 11, 1895.  Her new husband was a man of Scottish ancestry who served with distinction in the Dutch colonial army.  Margaretha was nearing her 19th birthday and MacLeod was 39 at the time of their marriage.  She had had few prospects and the marriage provided her with social status, financial security and respectability.

Captain Rudolph MacLeod

From 1897 to 1902, Margaretha and her husband made their home in Java and Sumatra.  Their union, though, was not a happy one.  While in the Indies, coquettish Margaretha, who had a penchant for soldiers in uniform, was pursued by young lieutenants. This provoked Rudolph's jealousy, although he was not exactly a model spouse himself.  According to the Don Hollway in his History Magazine article, MacLeod also "had his own issues: gambling, drinking, womanizing, jealousy and spousal abuse, not to mention venereal disease."

The couple did have two children - a son named Norman John MacLeod (born January 30, 1897 - died June 27, 1899) and a daughter named Jeanne Louise MacLeod (born May 2, 1898).  In June of 1899, however, a terrible tragedy occurred. Both children became seriously ill and had to be hospitalized.  Two-year-old Norman died and Jeanne Louise (known as "Non") narrowly survived. Although a nanny was accused of poisoning the children, Hollway and others contend that Norman's death was more likely due to congenital syphilis, or its virulent mercury "cure."  It is thought that Margaretha may have contracted syphilis from her husband and passed it on to her children.

Jeanne Louuse MacLeod

Rudolph and son Norman
Margaretha and Rudolph returned to the Netherlands together in 1902, but separated soon after.  In 1906, their marriage ended in divorce and Rudolph MacLeod was granted custody of their daughter. After the break-up of her marriage, Margaretha headed for the City of Lights. In 1905, she started to dance professionally in Paris, using the moniker "Lady MacLeod." However, she soon adopted the name "Mata Hari," which is a  Malay expression for the sun or "eye of the day."  She performed East Indian dances and was willing to appear virtually nude in public, clad only in a beaded brassiere and heavy costume jewellery.

Taking advantage of her swarthy, exotic looks, Mararetha created the "Mata Hari" persona for herself. As part of her act, she performed a "temple dance" based on the knowledge of cultural and religious symbolism that she had acquired while living in the Dutch East Indies.  Although of Dutch heritage, she was able to successfully pass herself off as an alluring Javanese princess.

In the years before World War One, Mata Hari was one of the most popular exotic dancers in the French capital and elsewhere in Europe.  She danced before crowds in Berlin, Madrid, Monte Carlo, Milan and Rome.  She also became the mistress of many famous and powerful men.  About 1912, however, Mata Hari's dancing career began to decline and her bookings became fewer. By March of 1915, her star had faded and and she performed for the last time. The novelty of her act had worn off. She was approaching forty and had gained weight. When her career ended, she found it difficult to maintain her lavish lifestyle, so she supplemented her income by seducing government and military men.

During the war, Mata Hari was able to travel freely.  She spoke several languages and, as a Dutch subject, had no difficulty crossing borders due to the neutrality of the Netherlands.  In fact, Mata Hari traversed so frequently from country to country that her name appeared on a list of suspected spies. She also knew knew no borders when it came to her lovers, who unwisely included German officers. It is not surprising, therefore, that her activities brought her to the attention of British and French intelligence and that she was placed under surveillance.

Meanwhile, Mata Hari fell in love a much younger Russian pilot, Captain Vadim Maslov, who served with the French.  Maslov, only in his 20s, was part of the Russian Expeditionary Force that was deployed to the Western Front in the spring of 1916.  In the summer of 1916, he was shot down and seriously wounded during battle with the German.  He also faced the loss of the sight in both of his eyes.

When Mata Hara asked for permission to visit her Russian paramour at a hospital on the front, French officials allowed her to do so, provided she agreed to spy on the Germans.  Wanting to visit Maslov and in need of money, Mata Hari agreed to spy for France.  A French army captain named Georges Ladoux recruited her to pass on military secrets from her lovers to the French government. Ladoux, head of the Deuxième Bureau (French military intelligence during World War One), assumed she was a German agent.

Georges Ladoux

The French were particularly interested in obtaining military secrets from Crown Prince Wilhelm, the playboy eldest son of Kaiser Wilhelm II (Mata Hari had danced for him before the war.).  They offered Mata Hari a million francs to senduce him.  What the French didn't realize was that the Crown Prince had little relevant information to offer them as he was not the great warrior that German propaganda portrayed him to be.  Although Prince Wilhelm was nominally a senior German general on the Western Front, he had very little active involvement.

Mata Hari accepted her lucrative assignment at a time when French fortunes in the war were at a low ebb.  French defeats were mounting and the army was in revolt.  Mata Hari's defenders argue that her extravagance, her open flaunting of her sexuality and her foreignness made her the ideal scapegoat to blame for the French predicament.

In November of 2016, Mata Hari was travelling from Spain by steamer, when her ship docked at the British port of Falmouth. She was arrested there and taken to London where she underwent intense questioning from Sir Basil Thomson, who was in charge of counter-espionage at New Scotland Yard. In his 1922 book, Queer People, Thomson provided an account of the interview and stated that Mata Hari admitted to working for the Deuxième Bureau.

After her interrogation, Mata Hari was initially detained at a police station and then released due to a lack of concrete evidence. She then stayed at the posh Savoy Hotel in central London.  However, Scotland Yard tipped off the French to keep her under close surveillance and then sent her back to Spain. Upon her return to Madrid, she rendezvoused with a German military attaché named Major Arnold Kalle and asked if she could see the Crown Prince.  In January of 1917, Kalle sent radio messages to Berlin regarding the helpful assistance of a German spy-code H-21, whose description was almost identical to Mata Hari's.  French intelligence intercepted Kalle's messages and identified H-21 as Mata Hari.

On February 13, 1917, Mata Hari was arrested by the French Secret Service in her room at the swanky Elysees Palace Hotel in Paris.  After her arrest, she underwent intense interrogation.  She only admitted to passing some outdated information to a German intelligence officer, but confessed to providing the inconsequential communication under the pseudonym of H-21. She later claimed that she was only trying to regain property that had been taken away from her by German officials.

Mata Hari on the day of her arrest

Mata Hari's chief nemesis was Captain Ladoux, one of her principal accusers.  Ladoux presented the evidence against her in a most damning fashion and on suspicion of being a double agent, Mata Hari was thrown into a filthy jail cell in the Prison Saint-Lazare,  She was accused of spying for Germany against the French and British and was tried before a French military court on July 24-25, 1917.  At her trial, she was charged with being responsible for the deaths of at least 50,000 French soldiers by revealing details of the Allies' new weapon, the tank. After deliberating for less than 45 minutes, the tribunal convicted her of espionage and sentenced her to death.

Mata Hari was executed by a 12-man firing squad on October 15, 1917.  The execution took place just before dawn, at Vincennes, outside of Paris.  She arrived at the muddy field, wearing a bright blue coat to protect her from the cold, a three-cornered hat to cover her untidy hair (unkempt from months of incarceration) and ankle boots, As she was about to be bound to the stake, she bravely refused to wear a blindfold and it has been reported that she blew a kiss to the dozen men before they shot her. No one claimed Mata Hari's corpse and her body was donated to the Museum of Anatomy in Paris. She was 41 years old at the time of her death

In 1930, the government of Germany publicly cleared Mata Hari of any guilt.

On October 15 2001 (84 years to the day of Mata Hari's execution), a group from her birthplace in Leeuwarden, Netherlands implored the French justice minister to reopen the case against the Dutch exotic dancer.  A delegation spokesman declared, "Maybe she wasn't entirely innocent, but it seems clear she wasn't the masterspy whose information sent thousands of soldiers to their deaths, as has been claimed.  She was probably more sexual than criminal."  The French justice ministry at the time, under Marylise Lebranch agreed to re-examine Mata Hari's conviction.

In 2007, a biography entitled, Femme Fatale: Love, Lies and the Unknown Life of Mata Hari was published by Pat Shipman, a freelance writer and Professor of Anthropology at Penn State University. Shipman researched Mata Hari's background and marriage and examined numerous declassified documents in France and England concerning Mata Hari's arrest and espionage trial.  She made the case that Mata Hari was framed by trumped-up evidence.  She  wrote: "The Allied commanders, especially the French, needed someone to blame, to punish - to defeat, as they were being defeated by the Germans. And there she came, the perfect scapegoat: a tall, dark woman . . ."

There is no doubt that Mata Hari exercised poor judgement and that she was a notorious femme fatale.  However, it is questionable as to whether she was a double agent who deserved her fate.


* Rudolph MacLeod remarried and his second wife was Grietjie Meijer.  MacLeod died on January 9, 1928 in Rheden, Gelderlnd, Netherlands.  He was 71 years old at the time of his passing.

* Although Mata Hari's daughter, Jean Louise survived the "poisoning," she died in 1919 at the age of 21, possibly from complications related to congenital syphilis.  She never really knew her mother.

* Four days after Mata Hari's execution, Captain Georges Ladoux was arrested for being a double agent.  He was eventually acquitted of the charges.

- Joanne

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Meet the Neighbours: A Guide to Dealing with Neighbour Disputes

The following infographic provides information about neighbour disputes and advice on how to resolve them.  I hope you find it useful and informative.  Note;  It was created by a UK company and the facts pertain to Britain.  It is still relevant to readers outside the United Kingdom.

- Joanne

Meet the Neighbours by Cast Iron Radiators 4u
Meet the Neighbours by Cast Iron Radiators 4u.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

The Mysterious Death of Canadian Artist Tom Thomson

He (Tom Thomson) was an intense, wry and gentle artist with a canny sensibility, one of the first painters to give acute visual form to the Canadian landscape as he discovered it in Algonquin Park, a section of northern Ontario that had been set aside as a conservation area in 1893."

- The Canadian Encyclopedia

To most people Thomson’s country was a monotonous dreary waste, yet out of one little stretch he found riches undreamed of. Not knowing all the conventional definitions of beauty, he found it all beautiful: muskeg, burnt and drowned land, log chutes, beaver dams, creeks, wild rivers and placid lakes, wild flowers, northern lights, the flight of wild geese and the changing seasons from spring to summer to autumn.

- A.Y. Jackson (1882- 1974), Canadian artist and member of the Group of Seven

How Thomson died, who found his body, its condition, and even its final resting place all remain mysteries. Some propose the cause of Thomson’s death was an accident resulting from plain bad luck, while others suggest suicide, and still others point to foul play resulting from a conflict over debt, a love interest, or opinions about the war effort. To add even more mystery to the affair there are serious questions regarding whether Thomson’s body was moved from its first resting place.

- Great Unsolved Mysteries In Canadian History website, Death on a Painted Lake: The Tom Thomson Tragedy

One hundred years ago today, Tom Thomson, one of the most influential Canadian artists of the early 20th century, went missing.  A century has passed since the day he disappeared during a fishing trip on Canoe Lake in Ontario's Algonquin Park.  Within hours of Thomson's departure, on July 8, 1917, his overturned canoe was spotted in the middle of the lake, not far from the dock from which he had departed.  Eight days later, the 39-year-old's  badly decomposed remains were discovered.  17 strands of copper fishing line were wrapped around his legs and there was a huge gash on the left side of his head.  On July 17, 1917, Thomson's death was officially ruled an accidental drowning by Mark Robinson, the Park Ranger who examined his body before burial at Canoe Lake.  Yet, Thomson's death is still shrouded in mystery. Was it really accident?  Was it a suicide?  Was foul play involved?

Thomas John Thomson was born in the town of Clarenmont, Ontario (in Pickering Township) on August 5, 1877.  The sixth of ten children born to John Thomson and Maragaret Matheson, Tom was raised on a farm in Leith, Ontario, near Owen Sound on Georgian Bay.  He spent his childhood fishing and hunting in the woods.  He also participated in the family's traditional and cultural pursuits such as singing in the Leith Presbyterian church choir, playing the mandolin, reading poetry and sketching.

Tom was educated locally, although poor health kept him from attending school for a time. According to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, his illness was described as "weak lungs" or "inflammatory rheumatism."  It is not known whether he completed high school. In 1899, however, he tried to enlist for service in the Boer War, but was rejected three times for health reasons. His sister stated that the rejection was due to fallen arches. That same year, he was apprenticed as a machinist in Owen Sound, but returned home after eight months.  He then enrolled in the Canadian Business College in Chatham, Ontario.

In the summer of 1901, Tom followed his older brother, George, to Seattle, Washington, where George and a cousin had started a vocational school which eventually became Acme Business College,  After some training at Acme, Tom landed his first job as a commercial artist.  He was employed as an engraver for a short time by Maring & Ladd (later known as Maring & Blake), a firm headed by C.C. Maring, a graduate of Chatham Business College. In 1903, he was hired away by the Seattle Engraving Company, at an increase of $10 a month.

Thomsonn may have remained in Seattle and pursued a career there, had not circumstances in his personal life intervened.  According to The Canadian Encyclopedia, an incident occurred involving Alice Elinor Lambert (1886-1981), an American romance novelist to whom Tom proposed marriage. At the crucial moment, Alice giggled nervously, upsetting the sensitive young man and causing him to abandon his matrimonial plans.  (In 1912, Lambert  married Joseph Ransburg and they had two daughters.  She later moved to San Francisco and served as an advice columnist for the San Francisco Examiner for a time. She died in Marysville, Washington in 1981 at the age of 95).

Alice Elinor Lambert

Tom returned to Ontario and in 1905 worked as a senior artist and engraver at Legg Brothers Photoengraving Company in Toronto. He also attended night classes at the School of Art and Design, where he studied drawing. By 1908, he was employed at a commercial art firm called Grip Ltd.  This Toronto design company employed many of Canada's major artists at the time and it was where the famed Group of Seven met for the first time.  J.E.H. Macdonald had become the head designer in 1906 and Thomson and Frank Johnston worked as designers under him.  In 1911, Franklin Carmaichael found employment as an office boy there and Arthur Lisner and Fred Varley later came from England to work for Grip.  Yet, despite Tom Thomson's strong association with the Group of Seven, he is not considered one of the seven.

Under J.E.H Macdonald's tutelage, Tom's talent really began to bloom.  He showed his sketches to Macdonald and others at the company and received rave reviews from A.H. Robson, the firms's art director and a member of the Toronto Art Students' League.  Robson, Macdonld and others were impressed with how true to nature Thomson's work was.

In May of 1912, Tom Thomson and fellow artist H.B. "Ben" Jackson spent two weeks in Algonquin Park, which was well known for its fishing and forests, and easily accessible by train. The two men explored the Tea Lake and Canoe Lake area of the park. During August and September of 1912, Tom went on an extended canoe trip further north, to the Mississauga Forest Reserve in the Algoma District.  When he returned, his colleagues at Grip praised his sketches as an expression of the character of the northern landscape.

Thomson's first significant painting was A Northern Lake (1913).  It was created from one of the sketches he'd done on his trip to Algonquin Park.  In the autumn of 1914, Tom returned to the park with his friends A.Y. Jackson, Arthur Lismer  and Frederick Varley.

In the winter of 1914-1915, Tom shared space in the Studio Building in Toronto.  He occupied Studio One with A.Y. Jackson and later with Frank Carmichael.  After their departure, he moved to a shack that was appended to the building. There he painted on large canvasses and entertained friends.

In November of 1915, while on his way back to Toronto, Tom stopped in Owen Sound to visit his sister, Minnie Harkness.  During the visit, according to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, he discussed his intention to enlist for service in the First World War but thought he might not be accepted.  Although Thomson despised the war, which he called "the machine," he was determined to serve in the conflict. As it turned out, he was rejected for reasons not fully known, although his family suggested it was due to foot problems (a toe broken as a youngster and faulty arches).

By 1915, Tom Thomson was producing beautiful oil paint sketches and his technique of landscape painting was evolving and developing.  He was also living in Algonquin Park for most of the year, spending only winters in Toronto.  It was in the park that he met his untimely demise.  Author Roy MacGregor has delved into the mystery surrounding Tom Thomson's death in his book Northern Light: The Enduring Mystery of Tom Thomson and the Woman Who Loved Him.  In this book, and in a 1977 article in the Toronto Star, MacGregor suggests that Tom was murdered by J. Shannon Fraser, the postmaster and  proprietor at Mowat Lodge on Canoe Lake and that Fraser's wife revealed the murder to a friend.

Who was J. Shannon Fraser and what motive could he have had for killing Tom Thomson?  Well, J. Shannon Fraser was born in Harrowsmith, Ontario in 1883.  His father, Skyler, was a labourer and his mother, Annie (Ferguson) was a weaver.  The family left Harrowsmith and settled on Earl Street in Kingsston, Ontario.  In 1903, Shannon married Annie Stewart from Westbrook, Ontario and the couple had a daughter named Mildred.  After living on Lower Bagot Street in Kingston, Fraser and his wife and daughter moved to Canoe Lake, where Fraser owned and managed Mowat Lodge while Annie served as manger and cooked for the guests.  It was there that that the Frasers became acquainted with the artist Tom Thomson.

From 1915 to 1917, when he was considered to be at the height of his creativity, Tom frequently stayed at the Lodge, when he was not camping.  According to Nancy Lang, who spent years researching Thomson's life for a documentary entitled West Wind: The Vision of Tom Thomson, "Tom would help Shannon with chores around the lodge to help pay for his room and board, so he would help put in a garden and more."

In 2011, nine students from St. Clair School in Kingston, Ontario participated in a project in which they investigated Tom Thomson's mysterious death.  The project was titled "Searching for Tom." and it earned them a gold medal at the Kingston Regional Heritage Fair.  The students did extensive research at the Queens University archives and reached the conclusion that Ton Thomson was most likely a victim of manslaughter.  After uncovering more information about J. Shannon Fraser, they came to believe that he was responsible for Thomson's death.

Why did the students suspect foul play and why they implicate Shannon Fraser?  Well, they found evidence that the night before Tom died, he and Fraser argued over a debt Fraser owed the artist. They also thought that Fraser may have been encouraged by the father of a woman named Winnie Trainer from Huntsville, Ontario, who some think was carrying a child by Tom.  Winnie's father may have been trying to persuade Thomson not to leave his pregnant daughter as Tom was apparently making plans to go out west to paint in the Rocky Mountains.

One student, Ashlee Redmond, explained the students' theory this way:  "It is thought that Tom and Fraser had a heated exchange, with Fraser pushing Tom into the hearth of the fireplace where Tom likely fell and hit his head on an andiron, which caused his death and accounted for the gash on his head.”

The students based their theory on a confession that Fraser's wife, Annie, allegedly made to a friend named Daphne Crombie.  Annie reportedly told her friend that she and Shannon dragged Thomson's body to the lake.  The students quoted the words of Daphne Crombie in an interview she gave to Algonquin historian Ronald Pittaway over 60 years later.  On January 4, 1977, Crombie told Pittaway that "she (Annie Fraser) never told me lies, ever."

The students' research prompted a letter to their principal, Mark Millan, from author Roy MacGregor. MacGregor noted that the students' findings provided fresh information and that they 'represented original research important to the Shannon Fraser file."

There are still other explanations regarding Tom Thomson's demise.  Another theory is that he was murdered by Martin Blecher Jr., a regular summer resident of Algonquin Park.  Blecher was known to envy Thomson's relationship with Winnie Trainer and may have killed him out of jealousy.

Although no suicide note has ever been discovered, some have surmised that Thomson took his own life.  Tom was known to have been shy and sensitive and he was said have had bouts of melancholia or depression.  In 1972, an article entitled "Reflections on The Passing of Tom Thomson" was published in Canadian Camping Magazine.  The piece was written by 82-year-old Charles F. Plewman, who had stayed at the Lodge and was a pallbearer at Thomson's funeral.  Plewman stated that he wished to shed some light on the subject of Tom's death, particularly since "as time goes on, myths increase."  In the excerpt below, Plewman details the stress and pressure that Tom was experiencing at the time.

After the funeral, Shannon Fraser who operated Mowat Lodge where Tom had stayed, and who was more intimate with Tom than anyone else, confided in me what he felt had actually happened. Tom Thomson […] was engaged to marry Miss Trainor. She was pressing him to go through with the marriage. He intimated that she was coming up to see Tom to have a showdown on the fatal week. He mentioned that Tom was a shy and sensitive person and that he felt he just could not face the music. The impression Shannon left me with was that somehow Tom had come to the conclusion that a settled, married life was not for him, but that he just could not say so to Miss Trainor. Recalling Tom’s previous statements of not to worry if he didn’t return on time, Shannon said that had made him feel that Tom had contemplated doing something on earlier occasions but had not mustered sufficient courage to go through with this intention.

Charles Plewman also had something to say about the discovery of Thomson's remains and the possibility of foul play.  He wrote that Mark Robinson, the Park Ranger, seemed to be in charge of the proceedings and that Robinson refused to allow Winnie Trainor to see the body.

When the body was found Miss Winnie Trainor, Tom’s girl friend from Huntsville, whose parents had a cottage on Canoe Lake in front of the Lodge, appeared on the scene and demanded the right to see the remains, saying that there must have been foul play as she was certain that Tom didn’t drown by accident in a small lake like Canoe Lake. This, Mark Robinson stoutly refused to grant. (The body had been in the lake about eight days and was not very presentable).

Tom Thomson had been dead for one hundred years now and, through the years, more information has come to light concerning his demise.  Some of the evidence, however, is confusing and conflicting.  A century later, questions still linger regarding the artist's untimely death.   Nevertheless, Thomson bequeathed a wonderful legacy to Canadians. His masterpieces, such as The West Wind and The Jack Pine are a reflection of this country and its magnificent landscape.

- Joanne