I was in Ottawa for just under 24 hours, but it made a great impression, particularly the Canadian Museum of History. The quality of First Nation artwork on display is extraordinary, utilising vibrant colour and strongly tied to nature infused with human imagination. Thus, adorning totem poles are variously Thunderbirds, Lightning Snakes, and even Supernatural Codfish. And while the totems were statements of power and, thus, perhaps it is not surprising that they were made ornate, echoing the philosophy of British nineteenth century designer, William Morris, practical function appears not to have been an obstacle to imbuing even the most commonplace objects with beauty. The head-baskets used daily to carry crops are designed with grace, and clubs used to stun seals and fish are shaped and decorated in homage to the fellow animals they are designed to kill. A jet-black, jewel encrusted bowl on display is one of the most beautiful objects I have ever seen.
Markontour is privileged by occupation to have visited most of the great cities of the world over the last decade, but this week I found tranquility, astronomical heaven, and a generous guitar owner in a small town on the California coast.
After six glorious season, Festival No.6’s North Wales run appears to have come to an end. It’s a musical tragedy because there is no other festival quite like it. Hosted in the bizarre mock-Italianate village of Port Meirion, with the peaks of Snowdonia as a back-drop and a schedule liberally dotted with Welsh acts, including a male voice choir as the top attraction – outshining even superb headline acts like New Order, Noel Gallagher, The Manic Street Preachers, and The Pet Shop Boys, Festival No.6 has had a spirit all of its own.
Ah, Green Man. A dreamy festival bursting with beguiling folk and indie music, where the views of Table Mountain (original Welsh version) compete for attention with the bands on the main stage; where the range of craft beers is so extensive they required a menu the length of a short novel; where there’s more vegan food than you could shake a tofu skewer at; and which this year was dedicated to the National Health Service (NHS), whose founder, Nye Bevan, grew up and developed his twin passions for social justice, song and art in nearby Tredegar.
What I love about record stores is that you can walk in just to pass the time, get transfixed by a new tune, and walk out clutching the best new music you’ve heard in ages. Guitar shops are different. You’d have to be both very wealthy and obsessed to buy a new instrument on every visit. But the chat is often just as illuminating.
Radio Four’s new series, ‘Economics with Subtitles’, got off to a great start with a programme explaining why GDP growth is not a useful indicator of the success of a society. “Economics is the only discipline where endless growth is regarded as a good thing”, says presenter Steve Bugeja, quoting a character in a Jonathan Frantzen novel, ”In biology there’s a word for that – and it’s cancer.”
If anyone has yet to see ‘To Provide All People’, Owen Sheers’ incredible ‘poem in the voice of the NHS’, dramatised by the BBC, then you are missing out on the television event of the year.