Montgolfiere Weekly

An exploration of culture in its many forms

Show me the data!

By Chris Atkins

I have lived, studied and worked overseas for just over 20 years and have recently moved back to the UK, where I was born and brought up. Not much has changed in that time – certainly not the famed British weather – but having settled into living back “home” I have noticed one thing: there seem to be a lot more fancy cars around than there were before I left. In particular, the Audi marque seems to be much more common on UK roads than in the mid-1990s. Continue reading “Show me the data!”

San Francisco, 6 years later

By Kristen Hines

I visited San Francisco for the first time six years ago in July 2010.

I like to immerse myself in a new city the first time I visit. About two weeks — long enough to move through the five stages of grief for the reluctant traveller: bargaining (mostly at the airport), unfounded overconfidence in one’s navigational abilities, rage, eating and, finally, acceptance.

This initial immersion, while intense, makes subsequent trips much easier and more enjoyable. I learned a lot about San Francisco on that first visit and, when I returned for a long weekend this past June, I noticed how much had changed … and hadn’t. Here’s what I observed. Continue reading “San Francisco, 6 years later”

Welcome to Montgolfiere Weekly!

This is a blog with multiple contributors who will comment on culture in its many forms, from the visual arts, letters and music to human health, habits and customs, with occasional references to hot air ballooning. All of us have day jobs where we write about other things, but here we can explore our creative side.

If you like what you find here, please visit us again. And if you would like to join the conversation by either commenting or sending me a contribution, just let me know. It would be great to hear from you.


Dining with the Borgias, flip-flops as cultural icon and other matters Brazilian

by Patricia Lightfoot

As the Olympic Games begin, I am re-posting a small tribute to Rio de Janeiro, which is the most spectacular city I have ever visited. For the people of Rio and all who are competing, I hope that the Games go well.

There are mountains all around, ocean, beaches, lagoons and mysterious forests inhabited by parrots, toucans, monkeys, marmosets and myriad other fauna. There is a palette of dark greens with the contrasting colours of the flowers, as if the “Douanier” Rousseau had been commissioned to paint the backdrop for Rio de Janeiro. It looks as though the vegetation could swallow up the city if it felt like it. There are mansions, such as that at Parque Lage, now an art school, which is set against the rain forest and the Corcovado mountain, on which the art deco statue of Christ the Redeemer stands surveying the city. Continue reading “Dining with the Borgias, flip-flops as cultural icon and other matters Brazilian”

A conversation with Stuart Kinmond

Please could you tell us a bit about yourself?

I live and work as an artist in Ottawa. I am originally from Montreal, where I trained to be an architect. I worked for 25 years as an architect in Montreal, Yellowknife and Ottawa.

What sorts of buildings did you design?

In my final year at McGill School of Architecture, I worked with a community in St. Henri in Montreal that was fighting the proposed demolition of a part of their neighbourhood to allow for the construction of a new exit from the highway. We proposed alternatives to the city, including the construction of in-fill housing. Continue reading “A conversation with Stuart Kinmond”

My closet is bare: A clothes-free year, part 2

By Barbara Sibbald

I’ve got nothing to wear. It’s a common-enough complaint that women (primarily) utter, especially at the end of a long season (i.e., winter). Of course, it’s hyperbolic. There are lots of things I could wear, just nothing I want to wear. The usual solution is a shopping trip and a big VISA bill. But that’s against my New Year’s resolution to go without buying clothes for a year. So instead of turning outward to the shops, I turn inward and take a closer look at the contents of my cupboard. And not just my bedroom clothes closet, but also the overflow in the spare room. Continue reading “My closet is bare: A clothes-free year, part 2”

Bags and purses

By Patricia Lightfoot

The Museum of Bags and Purses in Amsterdam is professionally curated and beautifully presented in a restored canal-side house. I had thought that this museum might fit into the “weird museum” section of this blog, but not at all. It is a first-rate museum, where the historical and social context of the objects on display is clearly explained in text and with appropriate period paintings and photographs. The collection was started 40 years ago by collectors Hendrikje and Henrik Ivo, when they bought a leather bag covered in tortoise shell and  inlaid with mother of pearl in an antiques shop in England. Their house in Amstelveen was the original home for the collection before it moved to its current location. Continue reading “Bags and purses”

A recent Paris visit: Being a short dissertation of potential value to the neophyte traveller

By Pat Rich


While it may come as a surprise to those anticipating that the whole world now speaks English, they do indeed still speak French in Paris. However, Parisians are now far more accommodating to unilingual English tourists than they were in the past. Those speaking English only will no longer be greeted with distain, and English is almost universally understood in tourist settings. Attempts to speak French by anglophones will be appreciated, but the visitor will generally find their Parisian host/server will instantly recognize a non-native accent and switch to English. Continue reading “A recent Paris visit: Being a short dissertation of potential value to the neophyte traveller”

A place and time

By Patricia Lightfoot

Place: St. Matthew’s Chapel, Niguliste Church, Tallinn, Estonia

Time: Late fifteenth century

What was happening: German artist Bernt Notke had painted a danse macabre or “dance of death” to be displayed in the church. The subject of the painting, skeletons leading understandably reluctant humans in a macabre dance, is surprising to twenty-first century eyes, but was a common theme of the late-Medieval period to remind people that they would die, whatever their station in life. Continue reading “A place and time”

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