Monday, May 9, 2011

Russian Embassy, Burgers and Pneumonia

Robert returned to Ottawa from Venice a few weeks ago after taking a somewhat circuitous route by flying first to Paris and then, a day later, on to Montreal. For those of you who are not familiar, flying within Europe is ridiculously cheap, whereas flying to Canada from Europe is not. Therefore, in order to get the carrier you want and the seating class you want at a price that you are willing pay it does make sense to see who is leaving out of which city and plan accordingly

To give you an idea of the cost of flying within Europe, I once had a hamburger and fries at one of Venice’s most expensive hotels, The Hotel Cipriani. It was a dining experience that was memorable only for the price. Later that same month Robert and I flew Easy Jet from Venice to Pairs to attend an award ceremony at the Russian Embassy of John Kapstein, the husband of one of Robert’s oldest friends the Baronessa Luciana Leto. The award was for his culture contribution to the Soviet-American relationship during the Cold War.
During one of our strolls through the city we happened upon a pub where I had my second European hamburger. The cost of that Parisian hamburger, inclusive of the airfare from Venice, was competitive to the cost of a lesser burger at The Hotel Cipriani.

It was also while in Paris that we discovered The Great Canadian Pub along the left bank of the Seine, near St. Michel. The establishment was serving one of Canada’s (mostly Quebec’s) most infamous confections – Poutine! French fries, squeaky cheese curds and gravy! Yum! Incidentally, the cost of an overflowing serving of this gooey goodness, again inclusive of airfare from Venice, was also competitive to the cost of the burger at The Hotel Cipriani.
The photo is of Liu Fang
performing in Pairs where
we were honored with a
private concert along with
the concert pianist, Noel Lee
You get the picture; flying within Europe is very inexpensive. So it made sense for Robert to fly to Paris in order to get a great value, non-stop flight to Canada. Of nearly equal importance to Robert was that the flight from Paris flew into Montreal and not Ottawa. Arriving in Montreal gives us an excuse to have a little getaway together plus has the added bonus of Robert avoiding Ottawa Immigration. Ottawa is the only city in the world where Robert has been detained by immigration officials for a major grilling  – twice. The second time an immigration official came all the way out to the waiting area to interview me ... where I lived, a number I could be reached at and finally my relationship with Robert.


"He’s my partner.”
Blank stare.  
“Life,” I elaborated. 

“Oh,” she said to me and then a second time at me and a third and final time aloud to herself as she was walking away. Robert was released a minute or two later. (This incident, by the way, has given us great impetus for Robert to get his Canadian Residency.) 
When his flight was booked to Montreal Robert had then proceeded to plan a dinner party with some dear friends we have in the city - Ted, a retired airline executive, Mark, a composer,  Liu Fang a world renowned pipa soloist  (a Chinese instrument reminiscent of a lute) and her husband and manager, Risheng Wang.  It was planned that after dinner there would be a mini-recital where Liu Fang could play some compositions that Mark arranged specifically for her.

Robert’s flight arrived in Montreal mid-afternoon on a Friday, and I met up with him after work at the Hotel Nelligan in Old Montreal. I could tell immediately that he wasn’t feeling well. He sounded congested and looked tired, but, truthfully, it was the other clues that were more telling of his state of health. Yes, he had adorned our room with flowers, but he hadn’t rearranged the furniture. Yes, he purchased tickets to the ballet for the following afternoon, trying to shoehorn it in before the dinner party that would be taking place later that very evening. But that was it, only the one thing planned. No additional plays, or museum tours, or recitals to speak of. This was not the man who had once insisted that I join him at the Royal Ballet in London after I had been awake for over twenty hours. This was not the man who would come home to our Palazzo in Venice and announce that a few people were coming over for drinks and dinner and when I, blindsided and slightly flustered, asked at what time would give a chipper response that would be something like ‘They’re coming up the garden right now.’
It turned out that I had reason to be concerned. As the evening progressed Robert kept getting worse, and although we attempted dinner at the hotel’s restaurant, Verse, he ordered very little (his favorite rhubarb pie), drank only water and excused himself to retire to our room shortly after our food arrived.  That night he had difficulty finding a comfortable position that wouldn’t lead to a coughing fit. His wheezing was loud enough to wake him up when he did happen to drift off.
In the morning Robert decided that he wanted to skip the ballet, which again, spoke volumes to me about how awful he was feeling. By mid-morning we concluded that he might have something serious, and I called Ted to see if he could recommend a clinic. Robert was by now shuffling when he walked. During our cab ride to the Westmount Medical Clinic I was both doting and reprimanding as he kept on insisting that we should go to the dinner party. While we sat in the waiting room both his illness and my stubbornness had taken its toll and bobbing in and out of sleep in the waiting room, he relented on the dinner but felt that we should at least try to make the recital.

He did in fact have pneumonia, and we were given a fistful of prescriptions and were told that if things got any worse, we should head immediately to the hospital. We got his medication and during our return cab ride I suggested, strongly, that we stay in for the evening to which Robert  expressed concern over disappointing his friends.

“Robert, in life-or-death situations, people understand when you don’t attend a dinner party.”

I won him over, but just barely.

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