Viva Las Vegas

My good friend Don and his fiancé Ke invited Rosa and me to their wedding in Las Vegas. Rosa was not able to go due to work commitments.

I almost did not go either. Three days before my flight, I hurt my back with heavy lifting on the weekend and then bowling at the MCO general meeting. I was in a lot of pain. I was afraid I had a lower back hernia (not a herniated disc, but a muscle hernia). I was able to see a doctor who said it was only a muscle spasm, and prescribed some pain killers, anti-inflammatories and muscle relaxants. The muscles of the lower back are not prone to hernia injuries.

I was feeling a bit better the next day so I went ahead with the trip.

Maverick Helicopter Tours
Maverick Helicopter Tours

Upon arriving in Las Vegas, I checked-in to a Hilton south of the airport. I gathered up my camera equipment and left for Maverick Helicopter departure location, which was very close to the hotel. Rosa had previously visited Las Vegas before we met, and she pushed me to take the same helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon that she had taken.

It took about 45 minutes to complete the check-in for everyone, and then we were assigned to the different helicopters. There were 7 helicopters that would be involved in the sunset tour.

Part of the Las Vegas strip from a Maverick Helicopter tour.
Part of the Las Vegas strip from a Maverick Helicopter tour.

I made sure that I had a good seat for the flight. I was in the centre seat in front, with lots of glass available for taking pictures. However, in practice it was a little harder than I expected as the glass was curved like a bubble – good for viewing but the distortion limited the directions that allowed for good photos. With weight and space restrictions, I could not bring a camera bag, so I put my wide angle Canon EF-S 10-22mm in one coat pocket and my Canon 550EX flash in my other pocket.

Once everyone was buckled in, the pilot started the engines and did the pre-flight check. Then something magical happened – we gently lifted off and hovered about 30cm above the ground. The feeling of hovering in one place and then slowly pivoting around to face the nearby McCarran International Airport was unlike anything I have ever experienced and was totally unexpected how much it would impact me. The freedom of movement, the graceful but intimate feeling of flight, so close to the earth and yet totally unconnected and free to move in any direction. It was a very special feeling for me.

We skimmed down the airport apron performing the final flight checks before the pilot pulled up on the collector and we soared into the sky. The view was magnificent – the city of Las Vegas falling away and then falling behind, the tops of the hotels along the Strip catching the setting sun.

We flew eastward, north of Lake Mead, up and down through the canyons along the top of what would become the Grand Canyon. The pilot did the expected heart-stopping manoeuvres up over the tops of the ridges and plummeting down the far side. I was having such a good time.

The Grand Canyon is about 450km long, up to 29 km wide at the top, and 1,600 metres deep. Nearly two billion years of Earth’s geological history has been exposed by the Colorado River.

The Grand Canyon, after the local sunset.
The Grand Canyon, after the local sunset.

We flew for about 20 minutes to a picnic site at the lower end of the Canyon that had been set up by Maverick for all the guests. They set out drinks, fresh veggies and dip, cheese and crackers. We talked in small groups – my fellow travellers came from all over world – and spent lots of time taking pictures of the surrounding scenery. The top of the Canyon was still catching the sunset and was aglow in pink and rose and orange and red.

After 40 minutes at the picnic site, we all climbed back in the helicopters and flew out of the Canyon and along the eastern side were we rendezvoused for a refuelling stop.

Then we took off for the final leg back to the airport. We flew past the Hoover Dam and then approached the Las Vegas at dusk. The skyline was brilliantly lit up, highlighted by the lights of the Strip.

After touch down, I returned to the hotel exhausted.

The next morning I woke up early due to the 2-hour timezone change. I had a long list of sites I wanted to see, so I checked-out, had a quick breakfast and started off.

Beautiful Red Rock Canyon.
Beautiful Red Rock Canyon.

My first destination was Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, 24km west of downtown. I wanted to do it early in the morning before the heat of the day. There is a one-way 24km long loop road that winds through the area, with parking lots at the various trailheads along the route. I stopped at a few of them to take more pictures and to walk around. With the limited time and the fact that I did not have hiking shoes, I did not stay very long at any stop. The scenery was so beautiful; I want to come back and spend a few days hiking and taking pictures at sunrise and sunset.

The loop road was also popular with bikers (both bicycles and motorcycles). I would love to drive the road at higher speeds like the Silver State Classic Challenge. That would be a blast.

After completing the loop, I headed to the other side of Las Vegas for a tour of the Hoover Dam.

The Hoover Dam is one of the iconic public works in the world, and a beautiful example of the Art Deco style (my favourite). It was built between 1931 and 1936 during the Great Depression. It is 221 metres tall and 379 metres long (curved). The top is only 14 metres deep, but at the base it is about 200 metres. It is this incredible weight that allows it to hold back the waters of the Lake Mead reservoir – the largest in the country.

After I parked, I first walked out onto the Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, which forms a bypass from the old narrow road that went along the top of the dam. From the bridge, you have a great view of the face of the dam and the Colorado River 260 metres below; it is the second highest bridge in the U.S.

The Hoover Dam from the Mike O'Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge.
The Hoover Dam from the Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge.

Next, I took the tour of the interior of the dam. There are 17 turbines in the turbine room providing 2080 Gigawatts of power. The turbines are driven by the water pressure; the water reaches 140km/h when it is fed into the turbines.

After the tour, I had lunch in the café and took a walk along the top of the dam and then returned to Las Vegas.

The wedding was to be held at the Bellagio luxury hotel. I checked-in in the early afternoon. This was another over-the-top experience. I was so excited to be there. The noise of the machines, the bustle of the crowd, the beautiful interior details. It had the right feel – it made me feel like a million bucks to be there.

The elevators are on the other side of the gambling floor of course. There were so many people, and so much going on. I walked around the hotel, then went for a swim in the pool.

I met Don and Ke and the rest of the wedding party in in their Penthouse Suite before dinner. Their room had an amazing view of the famous Fountains of Bellagio through the floor-to-ceiling windows. We had some drinks, some sweets then split into the bachelor and bachelorette parties. The bachelors (well, we were all in relationships/married) had dinner at Prime Steakhouse at the Bellagio. The meal was wonderful – I had a steak of course. Better than the meal was the conversations. Although I had never met any of the other guests, and I am a terrible introvert, I immediately felt relaxed with everyone. Dinner lasted about 2.5 hours.

After dinner, we went to a low-end blackjack table. I had intended to gamble a set amount, but I didn’t bring all the cash with me. I also wasn’t focused on the math, so I eventually lost. I watched the others play and got the hang of it, but the limousine was waiting so I could not start up again.

We had a VIP limo ride to the Spearmint Rhino Las Vegas, a gentleman’s club, and a reserved place and server girls dedicated to our party. The server at my end of the party (we were seated along a row) said she was originally from Budapest, but when I tried to ask more she demurred and didn’t give me any more details. The music was so loud it was hard to talk without extreme effort.

We returned to Bellagio between 2 and 3AM.

The famous Las Vegas sign, at the southern end of the strip.
The famous Las Vegas sign, at the southern end of the strip.

In the morning, I had a short time to take my picture at the famous “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign before returning to the hotel to get ready for the 11AM wedding. Don and Ke had a private balcony overlooking the Fountains of Bellagio. Ke was stunning in her wedding gown. After the ceremony, we watched a special fountain display created just for the wedding party.

We had a few hours of free time between the ceremony and the wedding dinner. I decided I really wanted to celebrate with an ice cream at Café Gelato. I brought my MacBookPro so I could look through the photos I had taken. Over the next 2 hours, most of the rest of the wedding party stopped by and had gelato too. It was great. We were talking as if we had been life-long friends. It was the people I met that made this one of the most memorable trips I’ve taken.

Don and Ke's wedding at the Bellagio.
Don and Ke’s wedding at the Bellagio.

For dinner, we had a private dining room. The food was elegant and delicious. The desert was interesting – a chocolate ball, topped with a sliver of gold leaf, that would dissolve after being covered in hot chocolate.

The next morning I flew back home. Although I only had a short time in Las Vegas, the scenery, the novelty and the new friends made this one of the most memorable trips I’ve ever taken.

2012 Oshkosh Air Venture show

Helmet on a Yak-9
Helmet on a Yak-9

Over time, my father and I have been more and more distant from each other. Of course, the physical distance plays a role in our emotional distance. Over the last year, I have desired to reconnect with him (and my entire family). In the spring, he suggested that something he has always wanted to do was to go to the Oshkosh Air Show. I thought this would be a good opportunity to spent time with him.

As he lives in Nova Scotia, I arranged for us to meet at Pearson for our flight from Toronto to Milwaukee.

I worked Thursday morning then left for the airport just before noon. Once in Toronto, I went to the gate were I hoped I would meet up with Dad. I waited and waited, while continuing to work using my laptop (I still have a heavy work load). The time passed and there was no sign of him. I tried calling his cell phone, but got no answer. I grew more and more concerned. Eventually, the plane started boarding, but still no sign. Once I was seated, one of the crew stopped at my seat and asked my name. I told him. As he walked away, I thought that there might be some confusion, so I told him that my Dad and I have the same name. I explained that he was missing. They then closed the door, with the seat beside me empty.

The stewardess stopped by to ask about the situation. She allowed me to make a final call to his cell phone, and finally he picked up. He had just arrived – his flight left Halifax 3 hours late. He would have to rebook somehow. The person behind me, who had overheard my situation, suggested that he book on a flight to Chicago and take a special hourly bus between O’Hare and the Milwaukee airports. The stewardess said I could make one more call if I could do it quickly. Thanked her a million times and called Dad to give him the details. Then the plane took off.

Once in Milwaukee, I took my time getting my bags and looking at the General Billy Mitchell museum in the terminal before I attempted to call Dad again (in case he was still on the way to Chicago). He picked up immediately. He was not able to get on the Chicago flight, so I would need to pick him up the next morning when he arrives on the morning flight from Toronto.

Luckily, I brought my iPod for listening to audiobooks, because it is 2 hours from the Billy Mitchell Airport to our hotel in Appleton.

Dad in front of the B-17 Aluminum Overcast.
Dad in front of the B-17 Aluminum Overcast.

Once I collected my dad the next morning, we drove straight to Oshkosh. As a special treat for us, I had bought tickets for a flight on a B-17G bomber, named “Aluminum Overcast“. We had to check-in for the flight just after noon, so I wanted to get to the pick-up location quickly. I didn’t know how long it would take to walk from the parking to the check-in both (or how difficult it would be to find), so we rushed.

We got there with lots of time (they were about an hour behind schedule), but I am glad I made it a priority to get there early. Oshkosh is huge! It was the 60th Anniversary of the airshow. There would be about 508,000 spectators during the weekend, 10,000 to 15,000 planes of all sizes, and 4,000 volunteers. The planes ranged from an Air Force C-5 Galaxy to ultralights, from vintage biplanes and World War II Warbirds to an F/A-18 Hornet, plus the Goodyear Blimp.

The B-17G flight leaves from nearby Outagamie County Regional Airport, which is in Appleton. From the check-in booth, we boarded a shuttle bus for the 30-minute ride. We arrived just as the previous flight was leaving, so we got to watch the plane take off.

Once it returned, we were given a quick safety overview and allowed to board. We were told we could unbuckle and start to walk around the plane as soon as all the wheels were off the ground.

The climb-out was gentle, which was best when people are climbing around the fuselage. As we took off, I tried to imagine what it would have been like for those World War II airmen taking off to bomb Deutschland – the tension, the fear, knowing that sometimes the planes don’t come back, facing uncertain death before your 25th birthday.

I took in all the sights and noises. It was actually a lot of fun to take the flight. The views were amazing. We could go up to the bombardiers seat up in the nose for a spectacular view. I didn’t dwell on what it would have been like for the bomber, knowing he would be dropping 4-tons of ordinance on people living in a city not dissimilar his own hometown.

Head in the airstream, from the B-17 Aluminum Overcast.
Head in the airstream, from the B-17 Aluminum Overcast.

The flight was about 20 to 25 minutes long. I had an opportunity to go through the entire plane, from the tail (but not tail gunner’s position), the waist turrets, the radio area, the bomb bay, the cockpit and the bombardiers position in the nose. In the radio section part of the upper fuselage was removed and you would stick your head out the top of the plane and look around. It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done. The turbulent air stream blew me around as I had a completely unobstructed view of the ground and the topside of the plane.

I didn’t want it to end, but it did. Too soon we were back on the ground. In the hot afternoon and exhausted from the thrill, I fell asleep in the bus ride back to Oshkosh.

Once back at Oshkosh, we mostly wandered through the Warbirds section.

In the evening, we had dinner at Bennigan’s across the street from our hotel. I ordered a Monte Cristo. I thought a grilled sandwich would hit the spot. What I did not expect was that Bennigan’s deep-fries the Monte Cristo and dusts it with icing sugar. And it has two sandwiches, not just one. I was shocked when the dish arrived. I cannot imagine (nor does Bennigan’s display) how many calories were on the plate. They offered to make another one without deep-frying, but I hate to waste an entire plate of food so I went ahead with this monstrous meal. I could only eat half which made me feel bad for the waste. I also felt physically awful all night long as the massive amount of oil worked through my veins.

The next day we walked around another section of the huge air show. In one plaza were the modern jets, including the C-5 Galaxy, E-2C HawkeyeF-16 Falcon, P-3 Orion, KC-135, a DC-10-based Eye Clinic, and another B-17.

We walked around the nearby displays. At the GoPro booth, I ordered a new Motorsports Hero 2 and the battery backpack. The Honda HA-420 Hondajet was interesting, clear-paper design. There were many booths and displays for safety gear and lots of tools for  navigation.

Members of the Tuskegee Airmen.
Members of the Tuskegee Airmen.

We caught part of the talk by the Tuskegee Airmen, but missed the talk by one of the Doolittle Raiders. We watched two Ford Trimotor’s taking load after load of passengers for short flights.

After lunch (mmmm, BBQ pulled pork sandwich), we found a spot to view the afternoon air show.

The show lasted about 3 hours. There were stunt planes, an F/A-18 demonstration, Canadian Forces Skyhawks and Liberty Parachute teams and a huge re-enactment of the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the war in the Pacific.

Tora! Tora! Tora! Enactment team.
Tora! Tora! Tora! Enactment team.

The Pearl Harbor demonstration was both awesome and disconcerting. While I understand that the event was an important historic event, I wondered if anyone else thought it was strange to re-enact what was basically a massive American military defeat with a large loss of life. The demonstration included later American victories like the daring Doolittle Raid, so I guess it’s a wash. But then, so many battles are still re-enacted through the world, such as the American Civil War – it’s not a new phenomenon.

On the other hand, the re-enactment was awesome. All air shows become more fantastic with large amounts of dynamite and gallons of gasoline. The explosions were huge!

During the air show, I tried to get some good quality photos. My goal was to create photos good enough for I had rented the Canon 100-400mm f/3.5-5.6 from Lens Rentals Canada. Being able to focus on a fast-moving plane was much harder than I expected. I was using my used Canon 50D while my 7D was being repaired.

The air show ended late in the afternoon. For dinner, my dad recommended we try the Golden Corral Buffet. They have a lot of choice so I could pick and choose, and the food was good. I could get some veggies as well as a selection of BBQ meats, pastas, Asian dishes and desert.

We talked about the family and about the future. For me, the key for this trip was to reconnect with my father. We rarely talk with each other. I wanted to open the door to normalize our relationship.

The love of flying. Thumbs-up from the Ford Trimotor pilot.
The love of flying.

For the final day of the air show, I wanted to go back and take more photos of the Warbirds that I had missed on Friday. However, when we got to Oshkosh many of the planes had already left. Sunday was the fly-out day for most of the planes. More than half had already disappeared overnight.

We stayed until the afternoon to watch the fly-out, including formations of Warbirds, and the grand finale of the C-5 take off. What a huge aircraft. It never looks like it is moving fast enough to take off. I suppose with an empty cargo hold that it must handle better than when it is fully loaded.

In the evening, the rains started. We had avoided all but a little drizzle, and I was very happy with the weather we had during the previous 3 days.

Early Monday morning we left Appleton for the airport. I planned lots of extra time to get through the rental-car return and airport security. I’m glad I added some buffer, as the TSA randomly choose to go through my luggage.

Dad and I at the famous Oshkosh arch.
Dad and I at the famous Oshkosh arch.

On our flight back to Toronto, I had little more to say. As the minutes ticked by, we sat in silence, side by side. I realized a fundamental truth. Although I want to get closer to my dad, in many unchangeable ways, we are just different. We have different points of view, different personalities, different priorities, and different social worlds. I was hoping to close the chasm between us. But we don’t have to be the same person – we are individuals. Instead, with this understanding, I can still talk with my father but I won’t set my expectations that we will ever become part of each other’s world.

Upper Canada Village

Today Rosa, my mother-in-law Lemin and I visited Upper Canada Village to see the Medieval Festival. I visited Upper Canada Village once before when I was a child. The name Upper Canada refers to the political division (like a province) of British North America before Confederation. It covered southern Ontario and Quebec.

The Medieval Festival was held on the grounds of Upper Canada Village in two open fields.

When we arrived, there was a birds of prey demonstration by Dale Gienow. Some of the birds have previously appeared on TV and movies. He had a vulture, some smaller hawks and a huge owl.

Jousting competition
Jousting competition

After that, we watched the jousting competition. It was impressive. Thundering hooves shaking the earth and then – Clang! – the instant of contact. The forces must be tremendous. Twice, a knight was knocked off his horse. It must have hurt to fall from the height of the horse while wearing a metal suit with no padding!

After the competition ended, we walked around to see the other exhibits, such as crafts tents, a puppet show, belly dancing, village idiots, and a food booth with medieval fare.

Upper Canada Village replicates what life was like in Canada (British North America) in the 1860’s. The village buildings represents individual homes, a tinshop, a hotel (now a restaurant), a school, a chapel and a church, printing office, general store, a sawmill, flour mill, blacksmith’s, and a woollen factory. There was even a Masonic Lodge.

I was not expecting to see so much, and I was pleasantly surprised at the breadth of the village reproduction, including actors in period costumes.

We were famished so we walked to Willard’s Hotel, which is now a restaurant. I had some local cheeses served with fresh bread.

Blacksmith working the anvil
Blacksmith working the anvil

We spent the rest of the afternoon strolling around, seeing the homes and businesses. The woolen factory was neat, full of very complex machinery that took the raw wool, spun it into a thick braid and then refined it into a single thread. A separate room was for dying the wool thread.

Watching the blacksmith working metal was also fascinating, as he was also explaining what he was doing as he worked.

We spent about 4 hours at Upper Canada Village before heading for home.

Vintage clothing sale

Vintage Clothing Sale
Vintage Clothing Sale

Last year Rosa and I attended the Vintage Clothing sale at the Château Laurier. It was a lot of fun, so we made plans to make sure we did not miss it this year.

We dropped off Rosa’s mother Lemin at Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica for the French service and then went to the sale. In the morning it was so crowded. I could barely move around. I stayed only 45 minutes before I left to pick up Lemin. I took her to eat a quick lunch at the RichTree Market in the Rideau Centre then we returned to the Vintage Sale.

There was a little more room to move around. But it still took 10 minutes to find Rosa in the three huge rooms.

I set a special goal this year. Last year, I was so shy I didn’t take any pictures of anyone except Rosa. This year, my goal was to actually talk to people and take pictures. There are so many interestingly dressed people at the show; it should be easy, if only I was an extrovert. Which I am not.

I found by speaking with some of the sellers, that it was not as busy as last year. I found that astounding as I could hardly move around in the morning.

I did talk to a few people. Not a lot but at least a few. It’s hard to overcome my shyness.

Rosa and friends
Rosa and friends

Rosa introduced me to a few people that she knew through other events like the Ottawa Fashion week (when I was at Mosport). It was a pleasure to meet Joa and friend. He is from El Salvador and is working in Ottawa ex-pat for a global professional services company.

I was not the only photographer at the show. I was envious that some of them were so at ease with approaching people. A few people stopped Rosa, as she was dressed stylishly as always. Marcia from the blog MarciaBCreative talked with Rosa and the photographer John Smith took her photo.

Rosa and I are looking forward to next year, which will likely be in a different location. I’ll remember get a press or photo pass from the organizer. I have been questioned by the organizer each year I show up with my DSLR camera.


Lately I’ve been thinking that I need to make some changes in my life. I am concerned about my stress levels. One of the biggest causes of stress is the organization of the 2012 Ted Powell Memorial Race weekend at Calabogie Motorsports Park. It’s been an uphill battle for months. There are many major issues that need to be resolved.

Additionally, I have felt unfocused and scattered. I need a way to find calm, learn to relax and focus, and deal with the issues at hand.

I also just finished reading Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. Steve practiced Buddhist meditation, although he did not seem to live a Buddhist life – he was a fantastically talented asshole. But he was also incredibly focused. I wondered if Buddhism was a key to that focus.

White Wind Zen Centre
White Wind Zen Centre

A week ago, I found that the White Wind Zen Centre was offering an Introduction to Zen Workshop, so I signed up after some hesitation. The course was today.

The information page asked the participants to wear comfortable, dark clothes that will not cut-off circulation while sitting. I gave this much thought and decided to buy a pair of medical scrubs. I always wanted a pair. When I was in high school the cool kids wore scrubs. I found that only one place in Ottawa sells scrubs so I headed there. They had many different colours but I chose a pair of black bottoms. They were so comfortable. They only had V-neck tops, which I am not comfortable wearing, so I had to find a top. I headed to the new Walmart on Baseline. The parking was a nightmare – they don’t appear to have enough spaces. I bought a simple dark-grey button-up shirt.

Then I left for downtown.

The White Wind Zen Centre is in Sandy Hill, surrounded by a tall hedge. It also has a monastic name: Honzan Dainen-ji. When I arrived, there were two other participants waiting outside on the porch. The centre is a heritage building with a large wrap-around porch. There was a small pond with a waterfall beside the Centre. There was a multitude of birds eating and bathing in the water. The biggest grey squirrel I have ever seen was exploring in the front yard. It was so peaceful; I could have just sat on the porch for hours taking in nature. 
At precisely 1:30PM, the front door was opened and one of the monks allowed us to enter. We had to remove our shoes and socks upon entering. I changed into my new purchases.

There were 6 participants. Our training was conducted by two monks. Both had cleanly shaved heads and wore simple dark tunics. We had a short introduction in the kitchen before we entered the zendo.

In the zendo or meditation room, we were introduced to the basics of zazen. This is a sitting practice. Everyone sits on a zabuton (like a large flat throw cushion) and zafu (round meditation cushion). During zazen it is important to sit up straight. The key is to form a stable base by creating a triangle with the butt and knees. For example, most people know the lotus or half-lotus position. I was not able to use either so I chose to tuck my feet behind the opposite knee. Our hands must also be positioned correctly.

Once everyone is seated, the zazen begins with three strikes on a bell. The zazen participant will breathe deeply and bow with the strikes.

Zazen is a 30-minute sitting meditation, with eyes open. One must experience all of the sensations. This includes the feeling of breathing, the feel of sitting, the feeling of your clothes, the sounds of the room and what you can see without looking around. It was important not to get lost in thought about the sensations. The purpose was just to experience the sensations without a mental commentary. The zazen ends with another strike of the bell.

Between the 30-minute zazen sessions was a 10-minute walking practice called kinhin. This is a slow walk around the periphery of the room. It also focused on the physical experience, including breathing, the feel of your feet on the wooden floor, the feeling of your clothes, the sounds and so forth.

The first two zazen were done facing the room. The last zazen was facing a wall, which is the normal (non-novice) practice. This was more difficult for me, as my eyes hurt. Although I was at the correct distance, my eyes strained to find focus on the white, textureless surface of the wall.

After three sessions of zazen and kinhin, we left the zendo and went to the kitchen for a question and answer session.

During the practice, I did not understanding the theory behind zazen and kinhin. I was expecting it would be more trance-like, an unguided daydreaming state. Instead we were told to focus on just the physical sensations and not on the mind.

It took a while to really understand this. The purpose is to attain mindfulness. There is much about our lives that are just ideas running around in our heads. Stress and worry are created only within ourselves. Although external influences cause us to feel bad, our emotions are only what we feel in our mind.

The first Buddha started with what is known as the First Noble Truth – that there is suffering and sorrow in the world. We experience pain and sorrow when we contemplate that our life is not as we wish it would be. Although we rarely think about it consciously, we are also afraid of our inevitable death. No matter how hard we wish it, it is not possible to achieve the life we desire for ourselves. The dichotomy is a source of internal suffering.

The Buddha concluded that suffering was not caused by the nature of the world, but rather our reaction to the dichotomy.

The Buddha realized that by being honest with oneself and understanding that everything is impermanent. Our possessions, our desires, our thoughts and our lives are fleeting on the scale of the universe. This understanding is the path to Buddhist enlightenment.

By concentrating on only the physical sensations available, zazen is a starting point to this understanding. Although we think we feel emotions and thoughts, in reality we can only sense (feel) our immediate physical surroundings. All else is created in our minds. This understanding comes from experiencing the physical world without an analysis in our minds.

The teachings of Buddha are much deeper than this, and include the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path. The course at the Zen Centre covered only the smallest fraction of Buddhism.

Now that I have taken the course, and have completed some supplementary reading, I need to think about this some more. I need to understand how this fits into my mental framework, and how I can incorporate what I find valuable. My goal is still to achieve a more balanced, focused life and to reduce the stress and worry that I feel.

Ottawa Zombiewalk 2011

Ottawa Zombiewalk 2011

Today, Rosa and I attended the annual Zombie Walk downtown. It started in the east and ended up on the front lawn of Parliament Hill.

We arrived late, so that limited me to only the Hill for taking photos. I would have liked to take some along the walk too. Additionally because of the late afternoon sun, and the desire to avoid the modern city scape as a background, I was very limited in the angles I could use.

I found a spot just inside the gates, where all of the zombies were entering. It was the best I could do, but once settled in, crouching down low, it actually was a pretty good spot. The low vantage point, looking up at the zombies backlit from the setting sun, it gave an ominous feeling.

There were some excellent costumes. One of the most photographed was the zombie of recently deposed and disposed Colonel Gaddafi of Libya. Also of note were the Lego Minifig zombies.

Some other photos from the Zombiewalk are here:

Beethoven's Fifth Symphony

This evening Rosa and I went to see the National Arts Centre Orchestra (NACO).

The opening piece was Vaughan Williams, Fantasia on a Theme by Tallis. It was absolutely enchanting. Very peaceful and yet memorable. I liked it so much that when I got home, I bought it on the iTunes Store. (It is also available to play from the event page just below the photo of conductor Hannu Lintu).

The second piece was the violin concerto, “Concentric Paths” by Thomas Adés, with soloist Leila Josefowicz. I did not enjoy this modernist work. I found it was too chaotic for my tastes with nothing specific to focus on while listening. The soloist spent 5 minutes before beginning the piece by explaining all the parts to the audience, but that mostly made people impatient.

Hannu Lintu - Photo credit Jonas Lundqvist
Hannu Lintu - Photo credit Jonas Lundqvist

After intermission, NACO performed Beethoven’s Fifth Sympony (Symphony No. 5 in C minor). It’s a fantastic work. I still prefer the Ninth, but the Fifth is still a magnificent work.

The NACO was conducted by a guest Finnish conductor, Hannu Lintu. I am interested to see the different styles of the conductors we have seen over the past 6 years that Rosa and I have attended concerts together.

Hannu Lintu has an eccentric and energetic style. His motions and gestures were dramatic. He was just so fascinating to watch.

Hot Air Balloon Ride – Not

Rosa bought us tickets for a hot air balloon ride. It was part of the Festival de Montgolfières de Gatineau – the Gatineau Hot Air Balloon Festival. It was something I’ve wanted to see for years and never made the time.

Rosa is very proactive though, and she bought tickets a few weeks ago – they were around $200 per person. Today was the final day of the festival. The weather did not look promising. Clouds, rain, and wind.

We left for Gatineau early, as we expected another traffic jam like for the fireworks show. When we arrived, we had a very difficult time finding the parking lot entrance. The signs were confusing and many of the streets in the area were one-way. Eventually, we found the lot and parked. We went to the entrance to ask about the rides. I tried to ask ‘en français’, but I could not understand the reply, so we had to find someone who could help in English. The ticket attendant called the organizer, but the go/no-go had not been finalized. After further discussions, we found we would have to buy tickets for the festival ($18 each) and go to the balloon launch point in order to get our refund, should the rides be cancelled.

We went in and went to the balloon ride starting field. There we were told we would have to sit and wait until the decision was made. They were nice and came out to keep us informed of the progress of the discussions.

After over an hour, it was announced that the rides would be cancelled. The winds were too high. They took down our name to indicate that we had been on-site, and then we could leave. We wandered around some craft tents before we got bored and left for home after sunset.

Rideau Carleton Raceway

This evening Rosa and I went to see our first horse race. We went to the Rideau Carleton Raceway south of Ottawa. It is also a casino so technically this was our first time in a casino too.

This will be one of the final races of the 2011 season – its getting dark earlier. The temperature was very nice this evening.

Harness Racing
Harness Racing

The track is 5/8ths of a mile. when we got there and started watching the warmups we found that this track has only standardbred harness racing. We were hoping to see something closer to a thoroughbred race (flat race) or a steeplechase with a jockey on the horse. In harness racing the driver sits in a sulky, which is a very lightweight two-wheeled cart that is pulled behind the horse.

I wanted to come to take photos as practice. I walked around trying to use the setting sun to warm up the photos. It was an excellent opportunity to practice panning. I also wanted to get a photo of all four hooves off the ground like the famous Muybridge series.

We watched about four races before Rosa was too bored to stay. On our way out, we looked in on the buffet. It looked so good – we will have to come back again.


Roller Derby

Jammer 'D.D.T.' of Slaughter Daughters
Jammer 'D.D.T.' of Slaughter Daughters

Continuing with my plan to keep doing new things and seeing new things, I wanted to go see a Roller Derby. I saw an ad for the Rideau Valley Roller Girls last year and did not make enough time to go. This year I made sure that I set aside an evening.

I was interested because I knew nothing about roller derbys and because it might be interesting for a photo shoot. I thought it would be fun.

The season finale (the “August Assault”) was this evening so Rosa and I went. It was a double header: Slaughter Daughters vs Pioneer Valley and Riot Squad vs Derby Debutantes. It was held in Jack Charron Arena in Kanata. It is normally a skating rink but for this event the track was laid out with duct tape on the concrete floor.

We watched for ten or fifteen minutes to understand the rules. There are two 30-minute periods per match, consisting of any number of jams. The goal is for one of the girls on each team, the jammer, to start from the back, make their way through the pack (including opposing blockers) and then start lapping the pack as many times as possible. They get one point for each time they complete a pass of all of the opposing teams’ blockers.

I got up to walked around with my camera. I tried to capture the action during the ‘jam’, particularly the intensity on the face of the jammer and blockers. It was a lot of fun actually. I am happy with the results but need more practice. But I love the shot above!

For the first match, the Slaughter Daughters obliterated the WMD from Pioneer Valley 218 to 46! However Rosa was bored watching from the stands so we left at intermission.