Blood red poppies

Remembrance Day

Every year, as October transitions into November, I go in search of a new red poppy pin in honour of Remembrance Day on November 11. It is a tradition in my family and across Canada to append the crimson flower to our lapel as a reminder of the bloody sacrifices made a century ago.

I also wear it to honour my great-grandfather Francis Sowden, who came home from the Great War, unlike so many others, including siblings on my great-grandmother’s side who are sadly just names without faces to me so many years later.

I am one of few in my generation to have known Francis Sowden.

I am one of few in my generation to have known Francis Sowden.

Recently, I have heard people complain that the commemorative symbol of the poppy has been co-opted by those who want to hail it as a symbol of the glory of serving in the military, if not actually the glory of war itself. This bothers me.

I greatly thank all those who have, do and will serve in the military both in Canada and abroad, many risking their lives to keep others safe. Although I was an unthinking idiot in my youth, I have learned that these people, while frail humans, are noble titans who see conflict as a last resort.

For all that nobility, however, the poppy must remain a separate symbol.

A painting from the Royal Ontario Museum that haunts my dreams. (sadly, I cannot remember artist)

A painting from the Royal Ontario Museum that haunts my dreams. (sadly, I cannot remember artist)

The poppy reminds us of the horrific toll of war. It is a crimson stain upon our lapels that taints us all and reminds us of the fragility of the peace that surrounds us. The bloody hue taunts our civilized smugness with a warning of how easily we can fall into the pit of violence, whether as individuals, communities or countries.

While we wear the blood red poppy to honour the fallen of World War I, we also wear it as a badge of shame that the war ever took place, and that the war to end all wars wasn’t.

This dual purpose must never be diminished. We must strive to be better.

And next year, as October transitions into November, I will go in search of a new red poppy pin in honour of Remembrance Day on November 11.

I will never forget.

A cemetery near my home reminds me of the sacrifices

A cemetery near my home reminds me of the sacrifices

Faces of the ROM

I have been on a face kick of late, watching sculptures, paintings, images for signs of life and personality. My recent trip to the Royal Ontario Museum was no different.

You can’t go ROM again

One of my childhood thrills was going to the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto, and by childhood, I mean lifelong, never-too-old eternal childhood. Visiting those familiar hallways and displays has always been like wrapping myself in a comfortable blanket of love.

Until yesterday.

I spent 3.5 hours wandering many of those same exhibits with my camera and left somewhat depressed. So much of that familiar charm feels gone or is relegated to a back corner of the hallowed halls.

Back in 2007, as part of the museum’s revitalization and expansion program, the ROM unveiled The Crystal, which the museum describes as:

“Considered to be one of the most challenging construction projects in North America for its engineering complexity and innovative methods, the Lee-Chin Crystal is composed of five interlocking, self-supporting prismatic structures that co-exist but are not attached to the original ROM building, except for the bridges that link them.”

Depending on whom you ask, this structure is either the most beautiful addition to Toronto architecture ever or the biggest monstrosity of ill-conceived architectural hubris.

I tend to fall into the latter category, as the addition feels like something that was slapped onto the old façade rather than something that is an organic extension of the pre-existing structure. And to make matters worse, although there has been some nod to design on the outside of the building, the inside still displays unfinished work that looks like particle board held together with visible screws and grated flooring. Only the lack of builders’ chalk marks signal that this is not a work in progress but rather is the final product.

But back to my depression.

As I ate lunch in the ROM cafeteria, I realized that I hadn’t been through a couple old familiar displays, including the old dinosaur dioramas that I loved as a child. Flipping through the museum guide, I suddenly realized: they were gone. The dinos of the Crystal were all that remained. A significant part of my childhood was gone.

Sigh.

Of the 170+ photos I took yesterday, I will likely only keep a dozen or so…and of that dozen, I may only be happy with 2 or 3.

Apparently, the camera was willing but the spirit was gone.

 

Additional note: While I am unlikely to wander the ROM’s halls much in the future, I will still visit on occasion when a new exhibit comes to town. The present show—Wildlife Photographer of the Year—is stunning.