Friday, 17 February 2012


“If you wish to experience peace, provide peace for another.” - Tenzin Gyatso, The 14th Dalai
I was invited by the University of Melbourne to give a guest lecture in a postgraduate program this morning. It all went well and the group of 30 or so students were alert, engaged, eager, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed – and they all laughed at the right spots too! It does make an academic’s job a pleasure to lecture to a group like that. It was so wonderful to be back at the University, this time not a student, but once again as an academic. It reminded of how fast the years are going by. It seems only yesterday I was on campus as a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed young thing myself…

At 1:00 pm we went to Cinema Nova in Carlton where we had tickets to the Leonardo Live program direct from the National Gallery in London. That was quite a magnificent production and we enjoyed it very much. But more of that tomorrow on Art Sunday on this blog!

For a little Saturday Serenity, here is the second movement ‘Adagio cantabile’ of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Septet in E flat, opus 20 performed by The Gaudier Ensemble. The Septet was first performed in 1800 and published in 1802. It is scored for clarinet, horn, bassoon, violin, viola, cello, and contrabass. It is in six movements:
1. Adagio; Allegro con brio
2. Adagio cantabile
3. Tempo di minuetto
4. Tema con variazioni: Andante
5. Scherzo: Allegro molto e vivace
6. Andante con moto alla marcia; Presto

The overall layout resembles a serenade but Beethoven expands the form by the addition of substantial introductions to the first and last movements. The main theme of the third movement had already been used in Beethoven's Piano Sonata, (Op. 49 No. 2), which was an earlier work despite its higher opus number. The finale features a violin cadenza. The Septet was one of Beethoven’s most successful and popular works and circulated in many editions and arrangements for different forces. In about 1803 Beethoven himself arranged the work as a Trio for clarinet (or violin), cello and piano, and this version was published as his op. 38 in 1805.

The photo is taken from our back garden, last winter. This post is part of the Saturday Sareenity meme.


“Work is the meat of life, pleasure the dessert.” - B. C. Forbes

Another hard week is over and another evening of exhaustion. I am certainly glad that the weekend is here and that Friday evening at home can be a relaxing time of unwinding and de-stressing. After a delightful home-made meal, what better dessert than rum baba, the classic French pâtissier’s delight?

Ingredients - for the babá
2          cups plain flour
125g    molten butter
3          whole eggs
1/2        cup milk
1/2        cup sugar
1               packet dried active yeast (7g)
Vanillin sugar, pinch of salt

for the rum syrup
2          glassfuls water
2          glassfuls brown sugar
1/2        cup white rum.

Take one cup of flour and mix with it the butter, sugar and the yeast that has been dissolved in the warm milk. Mix thoroughly until all ingredients have been well incorporated. Add each egg, well beaten and continue to mix, finally adding the vanilla, salt and remaining flour. Pour into a 2-litre turban cake mould and leave to rise in a warm place until double in bulk. Bake in a moderate oven (175˚C) for about half an hour or until golden brown. Boil the sugar and water until a syrup is formed (approximately 18 minutes). Remove from the flame and allow to cool slightly then stirring in the rum. Pour the cool syrup over the hot babá and allow to cool thoroughly. Serve with whipped Chantilly cream and fresh fruit if desired.

Thursday, 16 February 2012


“O, wind, if winter comes, can spring be far behind?” - Percy Bysshe Shelley

The anemone, Anemone coronaria, is the flower assigned to the birthdays falling on this day. The generic name for the plant is derived from the Greek anemos = “wind”, referring to the growth of the flower on high, windswept places. Windflower and granny’s bonnet are alternative names for the plant.  Classical legend attributes the origin of the flower to another of the passionate, soap-opera type of mythological tales the Greeks and Romans were excessively fond of:

Anemone was a beautiful young woman, a handmaiden of Chloris, the goddess of vegetation.  Chloris’s husband, Zephyr the West Wind, fell in love with Anemone, who returned his feelings. Chloris was furious when she found out and banished Anemone to a distant place, where she pined away and died.  Zephyr asked Aphrodite, goddess of Beauty and Love, to transform Anemone’s body to a flower so that he could caress her petals.  Aphrodite obliged but fickle male that Zephyr was, he lost interest in poor Anemone soon after.  Boreas the North Wind then tried to win Anemone’s affections, but constant female that she was, she would not surrender. Ever since then, anemones have been blown by the fierce North winds on high hills but they hold on tenaciously and do not yield:
            The wind forbids the flowers to flourish long,
            Which owe to winds their name in Grecian song.

The flower was thought to be an ill omen, no doubt because of the sad story of its origin, but in medieval times, anemones acquired supernatural powers and could be used as talismans.  The first spring blooms were picked by someone who said: “I gather thee for remedy against disease”, and the flowers then placed in a red cloth until required.  They would then be tied around the neck of the sufferer:
            The first spring-bloom anemone she in his doublet wove,
            To keep him safe from pestilence where’er he should rove.

The anemone symbolises sickness, sorrow and brevity, the ancient Egyptians firstly using the anemone as such a symbol.  In Christian tradition, the anemones are said to have sprung up on Calvary as the Virgin Mary wept and her tears dropped on the ground.  Astrologically, the plant is under the dominion of Mars.

The wood anemone (Anemone nemorosa) is used as a weather oracle.  It flowers at the end of March or the beginning of April and closes its petals at the approach of rain. This is useful in these months when sudden showers are very common.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012


“Love is of all passions the strongest, for it attacks simultaneously the head, the heart and the senses.” - Lao Tzu
Magpie Tales must have been in Valentine Day mood when selecting this week’s prompt. A striking image by Christophe Gilbert, with several lines of subtext that I won’t go into. I will succumb to the Valentine mood and write of love.


The pagan tribes of Araby revere the sun
The Saracens all to the moon pay homage.
The stars and winds in blackest Africa are adored
And I my love only your eyes do worship.

In times of strife all men the saints invoke
In hardship ev’ryone to gods does turn,
In tempests raging, sailors Christ recall
But I my love to you in my misfortune pray.

All slaves crave for their freedom sweet,
All prisoners to loose their fetters try,
All cagéd birds to escape their bars attempt,
And I, my love, to you myself enchain.

To war, searching for glory soldiers go,
To power king and noble all would sacrifice
To miser more than life the glint of gold is worth,
But I my love would for your smile expire.


Greece is at a crucial crossroads. The choices that are made and the policies that are enforced will have a decisive impact on the wellbeing of Greeks. The way forward will not be easy but the problems can be solved, and will be solved, if there is unity, co-operation and consensus. - Lucas Papademos
The dire news from Greece over the last couple of days has caused great consternation amongst the community here. We watched the footage from Athens and felt deeply saddened and dismayed. Greek parliament met to approve a new round of draconian austerity measures despite a long day of street battles between police and protesters. An altercation that left tens of Athens buildings ablaze and the streets in the historic centre of the City in chaos. Despite the 100,000-strong turnout in Athens and Thessaloniki the Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos denounced the violence in the debate leading up to the vote, saying the street battles around the parliament building had no place in a democracy. The result was approval of another round of stringent budget cuts requested by Greece’s international creditors in return for a further $160 billion bailout.

In the meantime, the damage was being done. Although the majority of protesters were peaceful and wanted nothing more than to express their consternation at the impossibility of having to cope with even more reductions in salaries, increases in taxes, deterioration of working conditions and an ever-increasing insecurity of jobs, a small but highly organised element of anarchists were hell-bent on destruction and immolation. These are the “known unknowns” or “hooded ones” who infiltrate the milieu of peaceful demonstrations in order to push their own agenda: Destabilisation of the establishment, destruction of private and public property, looting, demolition of the status quo, ruination of the state, anarchy. To what end? Chaos, disorder, nihilism, the law of the jungle, the downfall of civilised society.

What a terrible thing to befall the Greek people and Athens. We watch it all on TV in disbelief and cannot understand what motivates these small groups of hooligans that burn, destroy, loot and destabilise. It’s all so sad and it is so disappointing. The birthplace of Western civilisation now looks as though it is becoming its deathbed… It is all the more poignant for us of Greek origin who live in faraway lands. We may have created new lives here and our primary loyalty may now be to other states, however, our heart still beats tenderly for the land of our fathers. How very disconsolate we feel, watching it all and not being able to do anything about it.

We hope that somewhere amidst these burning destructive fires there is also another unquenchable flame, that of the Greek spirit that refuses to be extinguished. The spark of the that spirit that gave the world concepts and words with which to think about them: Philosophy, technology, politics, democracy, architecture, drama, comedy, theatre, philology, logic, mathematics, mythology, geometry, ethics, dialectics… And the list goes on and on. I sincerely hope that soon we shall see some resolution one way or another. Greece is a country with endless miseries in its history, yet it always manages to resurrect itself. There is a joy, imagination, creativity and ingenuity in the Greek soul and Greece still has much to give the world.

It is disheartening to see the ruins of Athens, the burned shells of neoclassic buildings, the clashes in the streets where Greek fights with Greek. It is deplorable to watch civilisation being consumed by flames, to witness anarchy looting and destroying that which exemplifies the classic beauty of the blossoming of fine minds. It is lamentable that a proud and resilient people have been reduced to this pitiful state. Thucydides said: “We Greeks are lovers of the beautiful, yet simple in our tastes, and we cultivate the mind without loss of manliness.” It is worth remembering this as inhuman and unmanly acts of cowardice take place. Greece sparked the flames of Western civilisation, Europe was illuminated. Now Europe has returned the flame to Greece, but it is a destructive conflagration. Has modern Greece lost what Thucydides was extolling?

Prometheus springs to mind. The sacred flame is both friend and foe. Fire can warm or burn. Fire can work miracles or it can destroy utterly. Beware the flame, for in evil hands it is a potent enemy. In wise hands, fire can illuminate the darkest parts and warm the frozen places, it can spark wild flights of intellect and lighten the deep recesses of the soul. Greece needs a Hercules that will slay the vulture that consumes Prometheus’s liver. Fire need be tamed, its deliverer liberated and days of prosperity need return. Athens has been in ruins many times before, it will rise from its ashes one more time.

Sunday, 12 February 2012


“Therein lies the defect of revenge: It’s all in the anticipation; the thing itself is a pain, not a pleasure; at least the pain is the biggest end of it.” - Mark Twain
At the weekend we watched a good movie, one of those “new-fashioned Westerns” some of which have been done rather well in the last couple of decades. It was the David Von Ancken 2006 film “Seraphim Falls” starring Pierce Brosnan, Liam Neeson and Anjelica Huston.

The plot centres on two Civil War veterans, Carver (Neeson) and Gideon (Brosnan) the former bent on revenge, the latter on survival. It is set in the 1860s, with Carver and his four hired killers tracking Gideon across Nevada for more than two weeks. When they manage to shoot Gideon and wound him, they think this is the end of the game, but Gideon survives and gets away. The pursuit continues but the hunted man is intelligent, resourceful, tough, fit and skilled with a knife. The film follows Gideon’s flight and his hunt by Carver across the punishing terrain and the risky encounters they have along the way with a number of other people. We don’t know what the reason for Carver’s hunt is and what actually happened at Seraphim Falls. However, all is explained at the end!

As initially we are unaware of what the reason for the manhunt is, it is difficult to sympathise with either of the characters. My initial reaction was to be on Gideon’s side, seeing how he was being hunted by five men and he was being shot at. Carver made a pretty formidable “Javert” and I am a sucker for supporting the underdog. However, as the movie progressed, it became quite clear that Gideon was no angel and if Carver was pursuing him there must have been some pretty good reasons for him doing so. When all is revealed it is an extremely powerful and gut-wrenching scene and one feels quite benumbed.

This is not a film for the typical Western fan as it is not the formulaic one with a plot centred on shootouts between “good guys” and “bad guys”. The encounters that Carver and Gideon have with other characters in the film become more and more bizarre as the film progresses, until the final two meetings which are quite allegorical, the last one being surreal, bordering on the supernatural. This is also something that the typical Western fan may not appreciate. Perhaps the film may best be described as a psychological thriller, but the themes are quite deep: Loss, revenge, war, violence, crime and punishment, redemption.

Both Brosnan and Neeson act extremely well and while their lines may be sparse, their faces do the acting. Anjelica Huston has an interesting cameo, looking very much like a female Mephistopheles, which no doubt was the intention… Angie Harmon looks lovely in another cameo role. The cinematography by John Toll is quite spectacular and the locales are amazing, ranging from snow-capped mountains and forests to arid wastelands of desert landscape. The music by Harry Gregson-Williams is excellent and although it dresses the action aptly and well, it never interferes with it. The film is quite long, but kept us engaged and interested throughout.

There are some violent scenes within it and the squeamish may actually flinch, however, these scenes are an integral part of the plot. I had no issue with the explicit violence in this case, it was rather the implicit violence that was quite upsetting and the scenes towards the end when all is explained are quite shocking. The movie was overall very satisfying and well worth watching. We recommend it to all who enjoy a good action drama and a psychological thriller.


“I don’t paint pretty pictures. I love beautiful places but I am not interested in replicating what I see. The work is usually derived from landscape intertwined with social issues.” – Lesley Dickman
I posted on my photoblog a series of photos on the Melbourne Central Station concourse mural. This is quite an amazing large scale public art work that is highly decorative as well as having its intrinsic artistic worth. It is by local artist Lesley Dickman who works in Gembrook, Victoria, Australia. Today’s Art Sunday is devoted to this artist.

From 1964 to 1966 Lesley studied graphic art at Swinburne Technical College. She initially put her artistic ambitions aside to raise her family. Later in 1984, she obtained a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Monash University, majoring in painting and then received a Postgraduate Diploma of Art Philosophy, at Latrobe University in 1994.

From the mid-1980s, the artist worked as a theatre set painter for 10 years followed by six years teaching scenic art at Box Hill TAFE. During this time Lesley continued her studio practice exhibiting in solo and group shows. Lesley has continued teaching and runs classes from Three Stories Gallery in Healesville on life drawing and painting, as well as teaching privately from her home studio. She had a 12 months residency at St Vincent’s Hospital, Melbourne 2008 and in Open Studio Guildford Lane Gallery August 2009.

Although the body of her work is painting, Lesley’s relatively new interest in installation has evolved from previous studies in sculpture. Her “Salt and the Dress 1 and 2” installations were exhibited in 2008 and 2009 respectively and the third instalment of the series, was exhibited in June 2011 at galleries including Walker Street Gallery, Dandenong. Lesley’s mother worked as a dressmaker then moved into making costumes for television and theatre. This gave the artist memories of fabrics, patterns and the intricacy of the costume design process. This has clearly influenced the artist’s work  (as is visible in the Melbourne Station mural, for example). For Lesley, dress is not only indicative of creative expression, but symbolic of feminine identity and external appearance.

The image above is from the Pathways Series (2006) and is titled: “Metal Man”. It is Pastel on Paper, 250 x 170 cm. This was part of the Solo show, “Pathways” in the Goya Gallery, Docklands, Melbourne 2006. I particularly like this work as it has that element of the “informed landscape” that characterises this artist’s work. The earth tones are a reflection of the harsh Australian landscape, and the title that refers to “metal” immediately brings to my mind rust. The “Metal Man” is contemporary man consuming the land with his voracious appetite, destroying and despoiling it, while he himself is consumed by rust, the destruction having a karmic element to it.

The artist says: “I think my most significant achievement is the fact that I have maintained a love and a passion for art, starting from as far back as kindergarten when I first sloshed my hands into finger painting. That experience has never left me and although practising art is a hard road to travel, I am still inspired and still see the possibilities for invention ahead.”